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Pennsylvania Superior Court Finds Error in Defendant’s Conviction of Three Counts of DUI for Same Conduct

Albert Williams appealed his convictions for general impairment driving under the influence (DUI), recklessly endangering another person (REAP), and fleeing or attempting to elude police. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated the judgment, and remanded for resentencing–specifically, regarding Williams’ being convicted of three counts for the same conduct.

In April 2014 at approximately 2:20 a.m., City of Pittsburgh Police Officer Lee Myers observed a Dodge driven by Williams make a left turn through a red light. Officer Myers began to follow Williams, and Williams proceeded to crash into a concrete barrier. Before Officer Myers could get to the site of the crash, Williams backed up the car and then began driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Officer Myers activated his lights and sirens and began to pursue Williams, who was traveling at over 25 miles per hour. Continuing to travel in the wrong direction, Williams drove through several intersections with stop signs. Williams eventually crashed the car again, disabling it, and then fled on foot before Officer Myers arrested him at gunpoint.

Officer Myers observed signs that Williams was intoxicated, including that he had glassy, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and an odor of alcohol emanating from his body and breath. He had difficulty standing and walking without swaying. Williams was taken to a nearby hospital, where City of Pittsburgh Police Officer Craig Sullivan observed that Williams appeared to be intoxicated, advised him of his rights, and requested his consent to test his blood alcohol content. Officer Sullivan asked for Williams’ consent multiple times, but Williams did not consent to a blood draw. Williams was charged with the above-mentioned offenses and convicted following a bench trial.

On appeal, Williams raised the following issues for the court’s review:  (1) whether the trial court erred and violated the prohibition on double jeopardy by convicting him of three separate DUI offenses based upon a single instance of conduct; and (2) whether the evidence of REAP was insufficient because the Commonwealth failed to prove that Mr. Williams’ conduct placed or may have placed Officer Myers in danger of death or serious bodily injury.

The appeals court first addressed the REAP issue. Pennsylvania law specifies that a person is guilty of REAP if he “recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury.” The crime requires proof of a mens rea of recklessness and corresponding conduct that places another person in danger. Recklessness is defined by Pennsylvania law as the “conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk.”

The appeals court next disagreed with Williams’ argument that the Commonwealth did not present sufficient evidence that he possessed the requisite mens rea of recklessness or that Officer Myers was placed in danger of death or serious bodily injury. The evidence presented by the Commonwealth, which was deemed to be credible by the trial court, showed that Williams’ driving behavior caused a police chase to occur going the wrong way down a one-way street at speeds of over 25 miles per hour. The trial court found that “Williams created a vortex of circumstances that placed Officer Myers in the danger zone of death or serious bodily injury.”

Next, the appeals court addressed Williams’ assertion that the trial court violated the prohibition against double jeopardy and erred by convicting him of three separate DUI offenses based on one occurrence, when two of the offenses were not separate crimes but merely involved additional sentencing factors. On this issue, the court agreed with the appellant that the the trial court erred in convicting Williams of three counts of DUI based on the same conduct. However, since Williams was sentenced under only one DUI count, no double jeopardy violation was committed. Nevertheless, the multiple convictions could have collateral consequences in the future regarding Williams’ prior record score. On this basis, the court reversed two of the general impairment DUI convictions, vacated the judgment of sentence, and remanded the matter for resentencing.

Hiring the right attorney can make all the difference in the world, even if your case seems straightforward or you have no criminal record.  If you find yourself arrested for a DUI, make sure you have a capable attorney on your side. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Zachary B. Cooper will be aggressive and will fight to make sure that your rights are protected so that your family and you can move on with your lives. Call (215) 542-0800 for a free consultation to discuss the legal options that may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Lower Court Was Not Required to Impose Mandatory Maximum Sentence on DUI Defendant, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, December 8, 2016.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds DUI Defendant Waived Right to Counsel, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, December 1, 2016.

Pennsylvania Educates Teens About Dangers of Distracted Driving, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, November 15, 2016.