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Commonwealth v. Williamson

December 2, 2008

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT
v.
TANYA LEA WILLIAMSON, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order entered November 28, 2007 In the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Criminal, No. 733 of 2007.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klein, J.

BEFORE: MUSMANNO, ORIE MELVIN and KLEIN, JJ.

¶ 1 The Commonwealth appeals*fn1 from the trial court's order granting Defendant Tanya Lea Williamson's motion to suppress the results of a urine laboratory test which positively indicated the presence of benzodiazepines*fn2 in her blood.*fn3 We find the test admissible and, therefore, reverse and remand for trial.*fn4

¶ 2 Williamson was charged with violating 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(d)(2) (Driving under Influence of a Drug or Combination of Drugs) and related driving offenses. Prior to trial the lower court suppressed the results of Williamson's post-arrest urine test because the toxicologist's report did not state the amount of the drug found in her blood. The trial court found that 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547, a statute that discusses the admissibility of chemical tests in section 3802 prosecutions, created a mandatory requirement that chemical test reports express an "amount" of "alcohol or controlled substance" appearing in the defendant's blood in order for such results to be admissible in this section 3802 case. Specifically, the trial judge held that since the introductory paragraph of subsection 1547(c)*fn5 includes the language, "the amount of alcohol or controlled substance in the defendant's blood," then if the amount of the controlled substance is not contained in a report, that report is inadmissible. We disagree for two reasons.

¶ 3 First, the purpose of subsection 1547(c) is to outline the approved procedures and equipment (including qualified personnel, licensed laboratories and facilities) used for chemical testing of a person's breath, blood, or urine for relevant summary and criminal proceedings. Here, Williamson did not challenge the admission of the toxicologist's report on any of these bases. Second, in order to convict a defendant for the offense for which Williamson was charged, the Commonwealth does not need to prove or show the amount of the controlled substance involved in the prosecution. Rather, the offense only requires proof that the defendant was under the influence to a degree that causes impairment. Therefore, because the specific quantity or amount of the drug in the defendant's system is not an element of the offense, section 1547 is not even applicable to the instant case. Thus, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

¶ 4 On June 8, 2006, around 12:00 p.m., Pennsylvania State Trooper Creighton Callas was dispatched to State Route 21 near McClellandtown for a report of erratic driving. According to Trooper Callas, he arrived at Sweet Peas Service Station and noticed Williamson parked at the gas pumps, slumped over the steering wheel of her Ford Explorer. Trooper Callas says that when he approached her, her eyes were bloodshot, her movement lethargic, and her speech was slowed and incoherent. He asked her to exit the vehicle and at 1:10 p.m., conducted a field sobriety tests. Williamson failed the "One Leg Stand" and the "Walk and Turn." While Trooper Callas interviewed Williamson at the scene, she admitted to having taken medications, specifically Klonapin and Methadone, at 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., respectively. Intoxication Report, 6/8/206 at 2. Trooper Callas then placed Williamson under arrest for suspicion of DUI.

¶ 5 After placing Williamson in his cruiser, Trooper Callas interviewed Aaron Trump and Jennifer Tressler. They both stated to him that they had been driving behind Williamson and witnessed her "crossing the center line into oncoming traffic and swerving erratically." Pennsylvania State Police Intoxication Report, Continuation Sheet. They also said that Williamson had come close to striking a large dump truck driving in the opposite lane.

¶ 6 Trooper Callas transported Williamson to Uniontown Hospital where she submitted a urine sample. The sample, examined by Pc Laboratories Director Dr. Winek, tested positive for benzodiazepine, which is consistent with Klonopin. The report compiled by Dr. Winek does not state the amount of the drug in Williamson's blood, it merely positively notes the presence of benzodiazepine.*fn6

¶ 7 After a hearing on Williamson's omnibus pre-trial motion to suppress and the submission of memoranda of law from both parties, Judge Gerald R. Solomon granted Williamson's motion to suppress the evidence from the urine report.*fn7 This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

(1) Admissibility of Laboratory Report under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547(c)

¶ 8 The Commonwealth suggests that it was error for the trial court to suppress the report of the Commonwealth's toxicologist because it did not set forth an amount or quantity of the drug (benzodiazepine) found in Williamson's blood. We agree that the trial court erred in holding the report inadmissible. The trial judge found that the language of section 1547 requires that in order for a chemical test to be admissible in a section 3802 prosecution, the test must express an amount of the given controlled substance, drug or alcohol. "Consequently, since the . . . report failed to set forth an amount of controlled substance in [Williamson's] blood, the report cannot be admissible." Trial Court Opinion, 3/5/2008, at 7.

ΒΆ 9 Merely because section 1547(c) states that a report containing the amount of alcohol or controlled substance in a defendant's blood is admissible as evidence in a section 3802 prosecution does not mean that a report without an amount is inadmissible. This is especially significant here where: subsection 1547(c) is intended to outline the proper approved procedures and equipment to be utilized so that such test results can be deemed admissible in summary and criminal proceedings, and (2) the specific criminal charge for which Williamson ...


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