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Pa. Supreme Court injects itself into DUI blood test refusal

In a drunk driving prosecution, blood test results can be compelling evidence. These tests are also damaging even if a defendant refuses to submit a blood sample. But, the state Supreme Court agreed to review an appeal of a conviction where the motorist refused to submit this sample.

Pennsylvania law currently allows the refusal of this test, which may be taken without a warrant, into evidence. This refusal must be considered along with other evidence in the case, but no presumptions may be made about it.

In this case, police stopped the defendant because his vehicle did not have properly illuminated taillights. They smelled alcohol on his breath and noticed that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. He also admitted that he recently drank four beers, was not walking steady and failed a field sobriety test. Police took the defendant to the hospital and read chemical test warnings before seeking a blood sample. He refused to provide the sample.

At his trial, the police testified about the defendant's refusal. The defendant was convicted of driving under the influence and a summary offense of required lighting. Before his sentencing, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision reversing a North Carolina drunk driving conviction. That Court ruled that motorists cannot be prosecuted for refusing to submit to a warrantless chemical test. This was not a criminal offense in Pennsylvania, but, until this ruling, a harsher sentence could be imposed for refusing to submit to a blood test.

Based on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, the trial court granted a request for a new trial. A Pennsylvania appeals court, however, reversed the trial court. It ruled that obtaining a driver's license provides implied consent for a blood or breath test.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of that ruling and will decide whether the admission of this refusal violates federal and state constitutional protections. Even if the court rules in the defendant's favor, a refusal to submit to testing could lead to a driver's license suspension.

Any motorist facing a DUI charge faces serious consequences and should seek legal representation. An attorney can help ensure that important rights are protected.

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