A recent U.S. Supreme Court Ruling (2016) – The Birchfield Ruling – could affect your DUI case or conviction so that your sentencing could be reduced. Losing your license, spending time in jail and paying hefty fines are just a few punishments you face when charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania.
If convicted, the penalties for a DUI depend on the blood alcohol content (BAC) level at the time of your arrest. The two most popular methods in testing BAC levels are a breathalyzer and a blood sample. Until this recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, known as The Birchfield Ruling, you were deemed to give implied consent to testing simply by ownership of a PA license. Refusal of consent to testing led to enhanced penalties and automatic license suspension. However, the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Birchfield v. North Dakota has changed the way DUIs are prosecuted in Pennsylvania.
What is the Birchfield Ruling?
Birchfield v. North Dakota is a compilation of three DUI cases: Birchfield v. North Dakota; Bernard v. Minnesota; and Beylund v. Levi. All three cases set out to question the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights and what constitutes a proper search and seizure with regards to DUI cases.
Essentially, the Court ruled in Birchfield that the Fourth Amendment allows a warrantless breath sample to be obtained and used as evidence from someone under suspicion of DUI, but a blood sample must be obtained with a warrant. Further, the Court ruled that a person cannot be subjected to enhanced criminal penalties for refusal of a warrantless blood test. However, civil penalties for refusal are acceptable.
The conclusion of the Court is that breath samples do not intrinsically violate one’s privacy, but the taking of a blood sample does. A breath sample requires simply exhaling into a machine – a breath that would leave your body regardless. A blood test is much more invasive. It requires piercing the skin and the extraction of part of a person’s body. Not only that, but much more information can be gained from a blood sample – for more than what is typically relevant in the average DUI case.
In Pennsylvania, prior to this ruling, it was up to an officer’s discretion as to which sample to take – breath or blood – and no warrant was necessary.
In Pennsylvania, prior to this ruling, it was up to an officer’s discretion as to which sample to take – breath or blood – and no warrant was necessary. The officer was required to read you an implied consent warning. These warnings stated that drivers consent to test by using the public roadways in PA. Refusal to submit to the breath or blood test would increase your penalties to the highest BAC tier.
Birchfield states explicitly that a person cannot receive harsher penalties for failure to submit to a warrantless blood test. Pennsylvania’s consent warnings have since been changed to reflect the new standard from Birchfield.
What Does This Mean for Your DUI Arrest?
A first offense DUI in Pennsylvania with a BAC of .16 or higher had a mandatory 72 hours in jail and a one-year license suspension. If your case involved a blood sample that was taken without a warrant, you could have that evidence excluded.
Your punishment would likely decrease to the lowest tier, which includes no jail time and no license suspension. Defendants who refused a blood draw now have the benefit of being charged at the lowest tier. It makes a huge difference in penalties.
If you were arrested for a DUI and a blood sample was taken from you without a warrant, you may be entitled to have your penalties decreased or changed.
If you were arrested for a DUI and a blood sample was taken from you without a warrant, you may be entitled to have your penalties decreased or changed. The Birchfield Ruling does not, however, affect cases involving the use of a breath sample. Additionally, the Court would handle a suspect agreeing to the taking of a blood sample after receiving the implied consent warning. This issue was addressed in Beylund v. Levi, but the Court did not rule on whether consent was adequate – it was remanded to the lower court to make that decision.
Prior to Birchfield, the warning in Pennsylvania offered coercive language that forced suspects to submit in order to avoid harsher penalties. Harsher penalties are not constitutional. Coercive language is likely to negate consent. Therefore, any sample taken as a result would be inadmissible as evidence.
One last important note regarding the Birchfield ruling: it only relates to criminal penalties. While law enforcement cannot charge you with higher criminal penalties for failure to submit to a blood test, you can receive civil penalties. Thus, Pennsylvania’s automatic license suspension for failure to submit to testing could still apply.
The only way to know for sure if the Birchfield ruling affects your case is to have it reviewed by an expert. The DUI attorneys at SMT Legal are prepared to analyze the details specific to your case and work to get your penalties reduced if your rights were violated.
If you were arrested for a DUI and gave a blood sample, this ruling could affect your sentencing with the potential to reduce punishment and penalties. Even if you consented to a blood sample in Pennsylvania after receiving the implied consent warning, it is possible that your blood sample is now inadmissible as evidence in your case. It is important that you seek the help of a knowledgeable DUI attorney to find out whether your sentence could be reduced.
To find out whether this ruling could affect your DUI case, Pittsburgh DUI attorneys at SMT Legal for a FREE consultation. The facts and circumstances of your case will be analyzed and you could be entitled to have your penalties reduced.