Recent Decisions of the Pennsylvania Superior Court Significantly Affecting DUI Cases in Pennsylvania

  1. In Commonwealth v. Jason Schildt, the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently overturned a lower court ruling quashing all evidence of the Defendant’s breath test result. Although the case was reversed in favor of the Commonwealth, the central issue remains. The issue in the case was whether the current PennDOT regulations regarding calibration of breath testing devices are sufficient to substantiate the reliability of a test result in excess of .15% or below .05%. The Superior Court, in reversing the suppression order, simply stated that these are issues for trial and go to the weight of the evidence. The expert testimony that was produced in Schildt was sufficient to convince the trial judge that under the current PennDOT regulation framework, which only calibrates up to .15%, a breath test result which is higher than .15% is unreliable as a matter of science. The Schildt case leaves open the possibility that until such time as PennDOT’s regulations are amended, any alleged breath test result in excess of .15% is going to be subject to challenge at trial on the weight of the evidence.
  2. In Commonwealth v. Barker, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that where the Defendant was a brittle diabetic and had previously developed an infection in his leg as result of an injection, it was reasonable for him to request and for the officer to authorize an alternative test such as a test of urine. The officer declined the request for a urine test. At the conclusion of a bench trial, the Defendant was convicted of Driving Under the Influence. The court focused on §1547(i) indicating that the motorist had the right to ask for an alternative test and that such request shall be honored when it is reasonably practicable to do so. The court held that the Defendant’s request for a urine test was neither impractical nor unreasonable and that refusing to do so deprived the Defendant of substantial evidence that may have rebutted the Commonwealth’s allegations. Ultimately, the Superior Court reversed the judgment as sentenced and discharged the Defendant.
  3. In Commonwealth v. Durso, the Superior Court, in an issue of first impression, held that the campus police of a state-owned university were not statutorily authorized to conduct a vehicle stop off of university property. The facts involved the Slippery Rock University Police who conducted a traffic stop in Slippery Rock Borough based upon a headlight malfunction. When the officers observed the traffic violation they were in Slippery Rock Borough and the traffic stop occurred outside of campus grounds. The court found that there was a distinction in authority between campus police of state-owned universities versus campus police employed by state-related or state-aided universities. In a foot note, the opinion listed those universities in the Commonwealth designated as state-owned college and universities as follows: Bloomsburg University, California University of Pennsylvania, Cheyney University, Clarion University, East Stroudsburg University, Edinboro University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Kutztown University, Lock Haven University, Mansfield University, Millersville University, Slippery Rock University, Shippensburg University and West Chester University.
  4. In Commonwealth v. Tanner, in a case involving Homicide by Vehicle while DUI Aggravated Assault by Vehicle While DUI and DUI Highest Rate of Alcohol, the Superior Court addressed the issue of merger in a case involving those three counts. The facts of the case involved a two-vehicle accident with one person deceased and one person with serious bodily injuries. After the Defendant pled guilty, the Defendant was sentenced in the aggravated range at all three counts and ordered that all three sentences be consecutively served to one another. The aggregate term was 71 to 142 months in prison. The Superior Court decided sua sponte that the DUI conviction merged with the convictions for Homicide by Vehicle While DUI and Aggravated Assault by Vehicle While DUI and concluded that the trial court had imposed an illegal sentence. The case was then remanded for re-sentencing. The court reasoned that the single criminal act of Driving Under the Influence was the factual basis for all three criminal convictions. The court further found that all of the statutory elements of the crime of DUI are included in the statutory elements of the crimes of Homicide by Motor Vehicle While DUI and Aggravated Assault by Vehicle While DUI.

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