Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Holds Police Must Have Reasonable Suspicion of Intoxication In Order for Implied Consent Violation to Carry Suspension
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently affirmed a Common Pleas decision in favor of a suspected drunk driver, on appeal by the Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing. Police were called to the seen of a single-car accident in the early morning hours of August 28, 2007. The driver was found by an arriving officer, sitting on the curb next to his overturned vehicle and claiming he had fallen asleep behind the wheel. The officer began questioning the driver and noticed that the driver was slurring his speech. The officer then asked the driver to submit to a field sobriety test. The driver agreed to the field testing, which involved the walk-and-turn, standing on one-leg, and the finger-to-nose test. The driver subsequently failed the test. The driver was arrested, read his Miranda rights, and also advised of Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, requiring the driver to submit to chemical testing or face an automatic one-year license suspension.
At trial, the officer testified that when he arrived on scene, the driver had slurred speech, unsteady gait, and could not maintain his balance. He further testified that the driver refused medical treatment. The officer claimed that based on the aforementioned facts, he had reasonable suspicion to suspect intoxication. On cross-examination, however, the officer admitted he had administered a breathalyzer test to the driver which was negative for intoxication. The officer further admitted he searched the vehicle for evidence of drugs or other contraband, finding none.
The driver was picked-up from the Police station by a family member and was taken immediately to the hospital. Upon examination, it was discovered that the driver had likely suffered a head injury from the accident. The Court found that the suspicions of the officer could have been attributed to a head injury, rather than intoxication. Further, the officer had administered a breathalyzer and a search of the vehicle which both produced negative results as to intoxication; his suspicions were therefore no longer reasonable as to require the driver to submit to chemical testing. Finally, the Court held the driver could not have knowingly and voluntarily refused chemical testing, due to his head injury and condition.
Important to note is a dissent to the decision, pointing out that an officer’s reasonable suspicion is not unreasonable if later proven to be false. Also, the dissenting Judge was perturbed because no doctor testified at trial as to the driver’s head injury and whether it could have affected his knowing and voluntary refusal to testing. Nevertheless, the majority of the Court affirmed the trial decision, holding no violation of Implied Consent and therefore no suspension of driving privileges.
Driving under the influence in Pennsylvania is a serious matter, as it is in every state, and carries minimum penalties required by Pennsylvania statute. The mandatory minimum is based on elements of the conviction, with increases in the mandatory minimum based on any previous conviction for DUI or comparable offense within the past ten years. Penalties can range from 6-months probation to up to one year in prison; along with other fines and penalties.
If you have been arrested for Drunk Driving, DUI, DWI, or Underage Drinking, contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney immediately. There are defenses which are available to you, which can reduce or eliminate penalties associated with these charges. For a confidential consultation, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff at (215) 563-9800 or email: Marc@nefflawoffices.com.