DUI Defendant’s Consent to Blood Test Held Involuntary

In Commonwealth v. Evans (Pa. Super. Dec. 20, 2016), Defendant was charged with, among other things, driving under the influence of alcohol (“DUI”), highest rate of alcohol, third offense. His DUI charge was based on a blood test revealing Defendant’s blood alcohol content to be 0.18%. Prior to trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress the blood test, alleging that his blood was taken involuntarily, after the police had coerced him. Specifically, after arresting the defendant, the police told him that if he did not consent to a blood test he could be subject to enhanced criminal penalties and a suspension of his driving privileges.

The trial court denied the Defendant’s motion to suppress and, after a bench trial, sentenced him to serve 12 to 60 months in jail. Defendant appealed his case to the Superior Court solely on the grounds that the trial court erred by holding that his consent to a draw of his blood was truly voluntary.

The appeal court applied the following standard to whether a person’s consent to search is truly voluntary:

In determining the validity of a given consent, the Commonwealth bears the burden of establishing that a consent is the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice — not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied, or a will overborne — under the totality of the circumstances. The standard for measuring the scope of a person’s consent is based on an objective evaluation of what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the officer and the person who gave the consent. Such evaluation includes an objective examination of the maturity, sophistication and mental or emotional state of the defendant. Gauging the scope of a defendant’s consent is an inherent and necessary part of the process of determining, on the totality of the circumstances presented, whether the consent is objectively valid, or instead the product of coercion, deceit, or misrepresentation.

The Court first considered the Implied Consent Law (75 Pa.C.S.A. §  1547) which grades any DUI with a blood test refusal the same as a highest tier DUI and, therefore, “undoubtedly ‘impose[s] criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to such a test.’” (quoting Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 2185-2186 (U.S. 2016). Because the arresting officers threatened the defendant with enhance criminal penalties should the Defendant have refused, the Court vacated his Sentence and the Order denying his suppression.

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