DUI And Traffic Stops
Pennsylvania’s Superior Court has issued two very significant DUI decisions. The first ruling was handed down the case of Commonwealth v. Musau. The second decision was presented in Commonwealth v. Barker.
In Musau, the trial court found Musau guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of 75 Pa. C.S.A. §3802(a) (general impairment), his second offense, and graded the conviction as a first-degree misdemeanor pursuant to 75 Pa C.S.A. §3803(b) (4). The trial court sentenced Musau to 90 days to five years in jail.
On appeal Musau argued there was a conflict between § 3802(a) (which carries a maximum of six months supervision) and §3803(b) (4) (that identifies a violation of § 3802(a), 2nd offense, as a first-degree misdemeanor which carries a potential five years supervision). In light of the statutory conflict, Musau argued his supervision could only be 90 days and not five years. Superior Court agreed.
After reviewing the sentencing provisions of the specific DUI statute, 75 Pa. C.S.A. §3802, et seq., and the general sentencing parameters of the criminal code under 18 Pa. C.S.A. §106(b) (6), (e), the court concluded that if an individual is only found guilty of the “general impairment” provision of §3802(a) and not §3802(c) or (d), the maximum potential supervisory sentence is six-months and not five years. The important part of this case is just that: if a court finds a person who may have refused the blood or breath test guilty under § 3802(a) only, as a second offense, and not § 3802(c) or (d), the sentencing maximum is six months, not five years.
The lesson here is to specifically ensure any refusal charges §3802(d) are either dismissed or withdrawn at a preliminary hearing in the counties or a finding of not guilty in Philadelphia Municipal Court. Thereafter, the trial court may only, if the evidence is sufficient, find guilty under §3802(a), a general impairment conviction. Sentencing will then be governed by the DUI statute and 90 days, not the Crimes Code.
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The second case is Commonwealth v. William Barker. The case began as a garden-variety motor vehicle infraction, typical traffic stop and suspicion of DUI. However, competent counsel convert the case into a discussion of motorists’ right to an alternative blood tests under 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1547(i) and a police officer’s violation of the refusal statute, not the motorist’s.
For those unaware, 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1547 is the Pennsylvania implied consent provision of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code allowing for the police to request the operator of a motor vehicle suspected of DUI to submit to a breathalyzer test or have their blood drawn at an appropriate medical facility. If they refusal the criminal sentence may be worse and at least a one-year license suspension separate from the DUI may follow.
The appeals court addressed §1547 in the context of a §3802(d) refusal case. §3802 (d) is the DUI refusal statute law enforcement may charge individuals who have “refused” to submit to any chemical test requested pursuant to §1547. 75 Pa.C.S.A. §3802(d) (2) defines driving under the influence as follows: an individual may not drive, operator, or be in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs to a degree to which impairs the ability to drive safely, operate or be an actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.
Barker testified that he advised the investigating officer he would take any blood test that would establish his innocence, including paying for any test. Barker testified that he suffered a prior medical infection from the hospital to which he was taken, spending seven days there. At trial Barker was found guilty of violating §3802(d) (2) and was sentenced as a refusal.
Barker appealed the guilty finding under the refusal statute arguing that 75 Pa.C.S.A. §1547(i) specifically states: Request by driver for test: Any person involved in an accident or placed under arrest for violation of section… 3802… may request a chemical test of his breath, blood or your peers such request shall be honored when it is reasonably practical to do so.
At trial, the arresting officer did not testify that it was not reasonably practical to take Barker to a different location for the blood draw. Superior Court found this important. “Although section §1547 delineates the tests that may be used and the manners within which the tests must be conducted, §1547(i) does not indicate what constitutes ‘reasonably practical’ for an alternative test and an officer’s ability to reject a motorist’s request for an alternative means of testing at the time of arrest.” Stated another way, the court concluded that an investigating officer “shall honor a motorist’s request when it is ‘reasonably practical’ to do so”.
The court emphasized that the statute “presumes the validity of the motorist’s request and vests the officer with the discretion to decline the request for alternative testing only if the circumstances render the testing incapable of being put into practice with the available means”. The court went on to state that the statutory language does not continence an officer’s “arbitrary refusal” to decline an alternative test request.
The officer may decline the alternative test only if the test requested is not within the means available at the time the testing is sought. While the statute protects the arbitrary whims of motorists who might demand alternate forms of testing, the statute does not allow arbitrary conduct of the police officer in denying motorist’s requests when practical.
Consequently, the court stated that when an arresting officer arbitrarily refuses to allow alternative testing a motorist requests he deprives that motorist evidence admissible in any subsequent prosecution under § 3802, not just those prosecutions under 3802(c) or (d). This is significant in that in any DUI prosecution, an officer must comply with a request for an alternative testing at a different hospital or in a different manner, based upon an appropriate objection, medical condition, or phobia, if such alternate testing is practical under the circumstances.
The court found that when the arresting officer arbitrarily refused Barker’s request for an alternate test which would have produced evidence that may have proven his innocent, the officer substantially impeded Barker’s due process rights. Having found the police, not Barker, violated § 1547, the appeals court concluded that the arresting officer’s “refusal to honor the statute’s provisions yields a resolution that deprived Barker of admission of evidence that, had it been available, would have been relevant to the charges at issue.” Such violation undermined Barker’s ability to counter the Commonwealth’s allegations and, therefore, warranted granting Barker’s appeal and dismissal of all charges.