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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. WILLIAM HUGH COCHRANE (03/01/88)

decided: March 1, 1988.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, APPELLANT
v.
WILLIAM HUGH COCHRANE, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. William Hugh Cochrane, No. 86-4365.

COUNSEL

Harold H. Cramer, Assistant Counsel, with him, John L. Heaton, Chief Counsel, for appellant.

Stanton M. Lacks, for appellee.

Judges Craig, Doyle, and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.

Author: Craig

[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 186]

The Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County which sustained the appeal of William Hugh Cochrane from a one-year suspension of his operating privilege for refusing to submit to a chemical breath test. Section 1547(b) of the Vehicle Code, as amended, 75 Pa. C. S. ยง 1547(b).*fn1 We reverse.

[ 114 Pa. Commw. Page 187]

Our review in this case is limited to determining whether the trial court's findings are supported by competent evidence, whether there has been an erroneous conclusion of law or whether the trial court's decision demonstrates a manifest abuse of discretion. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Lielkajs, 109 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 148, 530 A.2d 1009 (1987).

The trial court, upon reinstating Mr. Cochrane's operating privilege, noted that Mr. Cochrane's testimony that his injury impaired his ability to make a knowing refusal, was corroborated by the credible testimony of arresting Officer Schmalz.

DOT contends that the trial court's order reinstating Mr. Cochrane's driving privilege should not be upheld because Mr. Cochrane's self-serving statement that he was physically unable to make a conscious refusal to submit to a chemical test for alcohol was not supported by the requisite competent medical proof.

To prevail upon appeal in a license suspension case under section 1547(b) of the Code, DOT must prove that Mr. Cochrane (1) was placed under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol; (2) was requested by the officer to submit to a breathalyzer test; (3) refused to do so; and (4) was warned by the officer that the department would suspend his driving privileges if he refused to take the test. Neitz v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety, 96 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 1, 506 A.2d 961 (1986).

Officer Michael Schmalz of the Warwick Township Police Department, in recounting the arrest of Mr. Cochrane, testified that on May 22, 1986, around 11:50 p.m. he investigated an accident at the intersection of York and Almshouse Roads in which Mr. Cochrane was involved. Furthermore, he stated that an ambulance was requested at the ...


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