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Newly Released Supreme Court Decision May Significantly Impact Pennsylvania DUI Law

November 29, 2016

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In a recently published opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court readdressed the legality of administering a blood test during an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI). It is anticipated that the Court’s decision will have a significant impact on how DUI cases are handled in Pennsylvania, so if you are being investigated for or have been charged with DUI, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights.

Birchfield v. North Dakota

In a recent consolidation of three separate cases, the U.S. Supreme Court readdressed the legal implications of warrantless blood tests. The Court reaffirmed that breath and blood tests constitute a legal search and so cannot be administered without a warrant except in certain circumstances. One of those circumstances is when the search is incident to arrest. The Court confirmed, however, that because blood tests are more invasive than breath tests they cannot be administered without a warrant, even when a driver has been arrested for driving under the influence. This in turn, means that drivers arrested for DUI cannot be subject to enhanced criminal penalties if they refuse to submit to a blood test when law enforcement officials do not have a warrant.

Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law

Based on the Court’s reasoning, it is likely that Pennsylvania’s implied consent laws will no longer permit officers to administer a blood test during an arrest for DUI without a warrant. However, law enforcement will still be permitted to report a refusal to take a breath or blood test to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) because this only has the civil repercussion of a license suspension and does not involve any criminal penalties. Furthermore, the prosecutor will not be restricted from using other evidence at trial, including:

  • A failed roadside sobriety test;
  • A driver showing signs of impairment, such as slurred speech and bloodshot eyes; and
  • The results of a breath test.

Pennsylvania does not have a law specifically criminalizing a refusal to take a blood test. However, under the state’s implied consent law, any person who refuses to give a blood sample and is later found guilty of DUI is subject to the most severe punishment. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, when a driver was arrested for DUI, they were warned that a failure to submit to chemical testing could result in enhanced criminal penalties, including jail time. However, since the Court’s decision, PennDOT has removed the warning about criminal enhancement penalties from relevant forms and officer instruction manuals.

Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The recently published Supreme Court decision will have far-reaching consequences on how DUIs are charged, prosecuted, and penalized, so if you or a loved one were recently arrested for DUI, please contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim by calling (215) 486-0123 and a member of our dedicated legal team will assist you in scheduling a free consultation with an experienced DUI lawyer at your earliest convenience.



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