A driver appealed from his 2015 conviction of driving under the influence of a controlled substance (DUI), third offense. Concluding that his arguments lacked merit, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction.
In October 2014, a police officer was on routine patrol at around 10:30 p.m. in a marked vehicle. He observed a vehicle traveling very slowly, and due to the number of thefts from vehicles in the area, he became suspicious and followed the vehicle. Based on his own speedometer, he determined that the vehicle was traveling at only about 10-15 miles an hour in an area in which the speed limit was 25 miles per hour. The officer observed that the license plate light was not functioning. Based on the suspicious manner of driving in an area with numerous vehicular thefts from vehicles, as well as the fact that the license plate was not illuminated, the officer stopped the vehicle. While speaking to the driver, he noticed that his eyes were glassy, and his pupils were dilated and did not react to light in a way that he, as a former trained EMT, determined to be appropriate. These were all indicators that the driver was possibly under the influence.
The driver admitted taking his prescription for oxycodone earlier that night. He was asked to step out of the vehicle, and the officer instructed him to perform three field sobriety tests. He failed all three of them. After failing the tests, the driver was transported to the hospital and submitted to a blood test. The results showed he had 435 nanograms per milliliter of oxycodone in his system.
An expert toxicologist, testified that the amount the driver had in his blood stream was four times the prescribed medication. In the expert’s opinion, that amount of oxycodone in someone’s system could kill a person and would certainly impair someone’s driving.
In August 2015, following a jury trial, the driver was found guilty and sentenced to jail time and fines. He filed a post-sentence motion in September 2015, requesting the trial court to modify his sentence. Specifically, he requested the trial court to reconsider the length of his sentence, namely the imposition of consecutive versus concurrent sentences, and he requested the opportunity to present “additional information and reflections” to the trial court. Following a hearing, the motion was denied. He appealed.
Before the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the driver first challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his DUI conviction. He first contended that the Commonwealth failed to prove he was under the influence of his prescribed medication, oxycodone, to such a degree that it impaired his ability to drive safely.
Rejecting this argument, the appeals court noted that the officer administered three sobriety tests, all of which the driver failed, which alone was sufficient to conclude that he was incapable of driving safely. Furthermore, there was undisputed testimony that the officer observed the driver’s eyes to be dilated and glassy and non-reactive to the officer’s flashlight. The driver appeared nervous, and upon exiting the vehicle at the officer’s request, he lost his balance and used his vehicle to push off it and to correct himself. The appeals court concluded that the evidence of his failed field sobriety tests and the officer’s observations were sufficient to sustain his conviction.
The appeals court next briefly addressed his second sufficiency of the evidence argument regarding the expert’s testimony. Specifically, the expert testified that certain patients can develop a tolerance to medication over time. The appeals court rejected the driver’s argument that this testimony demonstrated he was not impaired. The court reasoned that while the expert did acknowledge that an individual may develop a tolerance to prescribed medications, he also testified that the amount of oxycodone found in the driver’s blood was four times the therapeutic level, and in his opinion, a person with that amount in his system would not be able to function normally or drive safely. Accordingly, the driver’s sufficiency of the evidence challenge failed.
Finally, the driver challenged the discretionary aspects of his sentence. However, since he failed to include in his brief a statement pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Procedure 2119(f), and the Commonwealth objected to this omission, he waived this issue. In the alternative, the appeals court could find he waived the issue for failing to raise it during sentencing or in his post-sentence motion.
For these reasons, the sentence was affirmed.
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More Blog Posts:
Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects DUI Appellant’s Argument That He Was Merely Sleeping in Car, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 16, 2017.
Pennsylvania Appeals Court Vacates Illegally Enhanced DUI Sentence, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 3, 2017.
Pennsylvania Superior Court Finds Error in Defendant’s Conviction of Three Counts of DUI for Same Conduct, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2017.
Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Lower Court Was Not Required to Impose Mandatory Maximum Sentence on DUI Defendant, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, December 8, 2016.