Americans are long familiar with suspects being informed of their Miranda rights. However, a Pennsylvania appeals court recently ruled that police do not have to notify drunk driving suspects that they can be criminally prosecuted if they refuse to submit to blood tests.
The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on several appeals in 2016 where individuals were charged for refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine whether they were driving under the influence. In a seven to one vote, the Court held that these laws violated protections against search and seizure provided by the Fourth Amendment. State governments could not prosecute a driver's refusal to undergo a chemical test, even though police read forms advising suspects of the criminal penalties for refusing these tests.
The Pennsylvania case involved a driver who was charged with DUI, speeding and careless driving after a car accident in 2017. His BAC level exceeded 0.16.
At the preliminary hearing, the judge suppressed the blood-alcohol test results. He ruled that the motorist did not knowingly and consciously agree to the test because he was not fully informed that he could refuse the test without facing criminal penalties. Prosecutors appealed the judge's ruling and argued that their prosecution could not proceed if these results were suppressed.
The appeals court, however, reversed this opinion. This court relied on another recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that police are not required to inform DUI suspects of criminal procedure rules before requesting a blood test. It ruled that motorists are expected to know the law and any changes to it.
The appeals court also found that police read a Department of Transportation form to this suspect. The form contained a warning that the driver could incur stronger criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. The court also said that the police did not coerce the driver to submit to the test.
Drivers may not be aware of their rights and the consequences of being stopped for DUI. They should seek prompt legal assistance to assure that their rights are protected during an arrest or criminal prosecution.