Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Daniel L. Quinlan, Jr., No. 78-7962.
Harold H. Cramer, Assistant Attorney General, with him Robert W. Cunliffe, Deputy Attorney General, and Gerald Gornish, Acting Attorney General, for appellant.
Paul C. Vangrossi, with him Joseph J. Hylan, and Vangrossi & Recchuiti, for appellee.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr. and Craig, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.
[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 215]
This is an appeal from a motor vehicle operator's license suspension, for refusal to take a breathalyzer test in violation of Section 1547 of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 1547. The lower court refused to admit testimony from a police officer in response to initial general questions by Commonwealth counsel concerning who was involved and what happened on November 4, 1977, the date of the alleged refusal of the appellee-driver to take the breathalyzer test, allegedly following an accident. When Commonwealth counsel claimed inability to proceed because of the exclusion of the testimony, the court below sustained the appeal, and the Commonwealth appeals here.
[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 216]
Counsel for the driver raised in the court below a question concerning the constitutionality, as a matter of procedural due process, of Section 1550 of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 1550, which provides for appeals to court from drivers' license suspensions, supersedeas until "final determination of the matter," and the hearing at which the court is to "determine whether the petitioner is in fact the person whose operating privilege is subject to the recall, suspension, cancellation or revocation." Appellee interprets the last quoted language as prohibiting inquiry into the merits of the breathalyzer refusal and suspension and thus denying a driver any due process hearing.
The lower court apparently accepted that interpretation in excluding testimony concerning "what transpired on that date [November 4, 1977] relating to Daniel L. Quinlan, Jr. . . ." and similar questions.*fn1
[ 47 Pa. Commw. Page 217]
However, in the opinion filed by the lower court, the trial judge, after referring to the wording of Section 1550, proceeded to state:
The Commonwealth, in this case, failed to prove that which it was required to prove. The Commonwealth produced no evidence that the defendant failed or refused to take a chemical test of his breath. The Commonwealth attempted to prove only that the defendant had been involved in an accident, a matter which is clearly irrelevant to the matter of a suspension. There was no testimony presented as to whether the defendant had refused the chemical test.
Hence, it is clear that the court below, after excluding the testimony on the basis of the narrow interpretation of Section 1550, supported its decision on the basis of an interpretation broader than one confined to merely ...