Two recent decisions from the Pennsylvania Superior Court concerning driving under the influence (DUI) may affect how these cases are decided in the future and how they are handled by Bucks County law firms.
In Commonwealth v. Enick, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a defendant’s single act of crossing the center line can create probable cause justifying a vehicle stop. It has long been the rule in Pennsylvania that a single breach of the center line constitutes a “momentary and minor deviation” from the norm and is insufficient probable cause to support a vehicle stop. Here, the Court found that since half of Enick’s vehicle crossed the double yellow center line into an oncoming lane of traffic and remained there for three seconds that this was distinguishable from other cases and created a safety hazard. The Court noted that there may be cases in the future where a “momentary and minor deviation” may be insufficient to establish probable cause. The court will continue to balance the constitutionally protected privacy interest that someone has in their vehicle against the strict enforcement of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code.
This decision highlights the fact that each case will be judged on its own facts. Understanding the current standards applied by the court is important in evaluating whether a person charged with driving under the influence may have a defense based upon an illegal stop by the police officer.
In Commonwealth v. Barker, the Superior Court found that a police officer’s refusal to allow a defendant to undergo a test other than a blood test violated the defendant’s statutory right to alternate testing for purposes of determining whether he was driving under the influence. Barker had refused the blood test because of medical conditions and a history of getting infections at injection sites. He offered to take a urine, breath or hair follicle test to prove his innocence.
The Implied Consent Rule in Pennsylvania states that by virtue of holding a driver’s license, one agrees, upon a request from the police officer based upon probable cause, to submit to a blood, urine and breath test for purposes of determining whether the person is capable of safely operating a vehicle. If one refuses such a test, they may be subject to a one year license suspension.
The Court found that the officer’s refusal to give Barker the opportunity to take an alternate test and insisting only on a blood test denied Barker the right to “substantial evidence that might well have soundly rebutted the Commonwealth’s allegations. The Court cited Pennsylvania law that gives a motorist the statutory right to an alternate means of testing and when requested, the officer must honor that request if practicable.
It is important for people who are pulled over by the police and suspected of driving under the influence to understand and to know their rights with respect to chemical testing. If a motorist requests alternate practicable testing and offers a valid reason for the request, the officer may not refuse the opportunity for such a test. If you have any questions concerning these changes in driving under the influence and chemical testing, contact a law firm in Bucks County for more information.