The Supreme Court’s holding in Birchfield v. North Dakota, continues to affect how Pennsylvania DUI cases are prosecuted. In Birchfield, the Supreme Court held that police officers could not subject DUI suspects to warrantless blood tests or impose increased criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. Before the Birchfield ruling, Pennsylvania DUI suspects were advised that they would face enhanced criminal penalties if they refused blood tests. Those warnings, which were known as the DL-26 form, were modified post-Birchfield to remove language warning of increased criminal penalties. The new form, DL-26B, however, warns of the possibility of increased civil penalties for failing to submit to a blood test, which has led to confusion among DUI suspects as to what penalties may be imposed for failing to submit to the test.
Recently, in Commonwealth v. Miller, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that police officers do not have an affirmative duty to advise a DUI suspect they will not face enhanced criminal charges if they refuse a blood test. As such, if a DUI suspect voluntarily consents to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test, the results of the test are admissible, regardless of the suspect’s belief that he will face more severe penalties if he refuses to submit to the test.
In Miller, the suspect was arrested under the suspicion of DUI and then read the revised DL-26B form, which no longer includes warnings of increased criminal penalties for failing to submit to a blood test. The suspect, who had previously been arrested for DUI and read the prior DL-26 form, believed he would received criminal penalties for failing to submit to the blood test and therefore consented to the test. At his trial, the suspect filed a motion to suppress evidence of his blood alcohol concentration test results, arguing his consent was invalid because, based on his prior experience, he believed he would face criminal penalties if he did not submit to the test. The trial court granted the suspect’s motion and the Commonwealth appealed. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the suspect’s subjective belief did not provide grounds for the suppression of the blood alcohol concentration test results.
The court noted the express warnings provided by the police officer are the most important element in analyzing a suspect’s belief as to what penalties he would face if he refuses a blood test. As such, if a suspect’s subjective belief is contradictory to the actual warning provided by the police officer, the weight of the subjective belief is diminished. The court was not persuaded by the suspect’s argument that he relied on prior warnings in consenting to the blood test, found that his subjective belief was inapposite to the direct warnings of the police officer, and determined that this should be afforded little weight in evaluating whether he voluntarily consented to the blood test. The court explained that if they adopted the suspect’s argument, repeat DUI offenders would be held to a lesser standard than first time DUI offenders, leading to an absurd outcome.
If you are charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania, it is essential that you know your rights. Consider contacting a dedicated DUI attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your case. Zachary B. Cooper is an attorney who focuses on criminal defense law and can guide you in the defense of your case. Call (215) 542-0800 for a consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds Lower Court Properly Suppressed DUI Defendant’s Blood Draw Evidence Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, January 19, 2018.
Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds DUI Conviction Not Altered by Birchfield Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, October 5, 2017.
Pennsylvania Police Adjust to New DUI Laws Mandated by Supreme Court Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, July 5, 2016.