Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Lawyer

Enhanced Penalties For Refusing To Provide Blood (Without A Warrant) Held Illegal

In Commonwealth v. Giron, 2017 Pa.Super 23 (January 31, 2017) defendant was pulled over by police after sideswiping a parked car. Upon engaging the defendant, the officer noted a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle and defendant’s bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and unsteady gait. At that time, the officer arrested defendant believing he was driving under the influence of alcohol. When requested to provide a blood sample, the defendant refused.

At trial, defendant was convicted of driving under the influence-general impairment and his refusal to take a blood test and sentenced to 90 days to 5 years’ imprisonment. On appeal, the Superior Court took it upon themselves to consider whether the Pennsylvania law providing enhanced penalties for those who refuses a blood test. The law punished those who refused a test the same as those individuals convicted of DUI-highest rate of alcohol.

The Court considered the United State Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160 (2016) that “states cannot impose criminal penalties upon individuals who refuse to submit to a warrantless blood test because such penalties violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment (as incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment) right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.” Because the refusal law imposed enhanced criminal penalties upon individuals who refuse to submit to blood tests, the Superior Court held that, “in the absence of a warrant or exigent circumstances justifying a search, a defendant who refuses to provide a blood sample when requested by police is not subject to the enhanced penalties provided in 75 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 3803-3804.” Accordingly, the defendant’s sentence was vacated so the trial court could re-sentence him in accordance with the appellate court’s ruling.

Note: in Birchfield, the Supreme Court held that police can compel someone suspected of driving under the influence to submit to a breathalyzer test without a warrant.

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