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Pennsylvania Driver Challenges Suspension of License for Refusal to Submit to Chemical Testing

A driver appealed the suspension of his driver’s license to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that the trial court lacked sufficient evidence and committed several legal errors. The Commonwealth Court disagreed and affirmed the suspension. Blalock v. Commonwealth, No. 1592 C.D. 2012, opinion (Pa. Commw. Ct., May 28, 2013). In its order, the court stated that it could only consider whether the trial court had abused its discretion, not whether it got the facts wrong. Since license suspension is a civil proceeding rather than a criminal one, the burden of proof is much lower for the state. Both the trial court and the Commonwealth Court relied on the arresting officers’ testimony that the driver showed “signs of intoxication” during the arrest.

The driver’s arrest occurred in the early morning of February 23, 2012. According to witnesses, he was driving down the center of the road when he collided with another vehicle. The other vehicle was allegedly unable to avoid the collision. He continued for another 100 yards, then left his vehicle and ran into the woods. The driver reportedly told police that he swerved to avoid hitting a deer, then ran into the woods to look for the deer. The driver also stated that he hit his head during the collision, and that this injury might have affected his behavior.

Police stated that the driver exhibited signs of intoxication, such as “slow and deliberate” movements and speech, confusion, and a “faint to moderate” smell of alcohol. He allegedly did not perform well on field sobriety tests, and the officers said that he “exhibited no outward signs of injury.” The officers claim that they read the Form DL-26 warnings to him, which advise of the consequences of refusing chemical testing, and that he signed the form and refused to submit to tests. He later pleaded guilty to careless driving and failure to stay in his lane of traffic. The Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended his license for one year, which the law allows if a DUI suspect refuses chemical testing. He appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.

Both the Court of Common Pleas and the Commonwealth Court affirmed the suspension, finding that the DOT had proven the four required elements:
1. An arrest based on reasonable suspicion that the driver was under the influence of alcohol;
2. A request to submit to chemical testing;
3. A refusal by the driver; and
4. A warning to the driver that refusal could result in license suspension.

The driver raised three issues in his appeal to the Commonwealth Court: that the arresting officer’s testimony regarding his behavior was hearsay, that the court erred in finding that the officer had reasonable grounds to conclude he was intoxicated, and that he was not able to knowingly or voluntarily consent to chemical testing due to his head injury. The court gave broad discretion to the trial court’s findings of fact, and denied all three grounds.

An arrest for alleged DUI in Pennsylvania can have a serious impact on your life, even if you are not convicted of any offense. If you have been arrested or charged with DUI, a qualified and skilled DUI lawyer can advise you of your rights and plan the best possible defense for you. Zachary B. Cooper, Attorney at Law, P.C. has dedicated 100% of his practice to DUI defense. We are available to help you 24/7. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us online or at (215) 542-0800.