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Yourick v. Commonwealth

February 4, 2009

DARLENE ANN YOURICK
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, APPELLANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Butler

Argued: October 15, 2008

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE DORIS A. SMITH-RIBNER, Judge, HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge.

OPINION

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (PennDOT) appeals from the November 16, 2007 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) setting aside its suspension of the operating privileges of Darlene Ann Yourick (Yourick). PennDOT suspended Yourick's driver's license pursuant to Section 1547 of the Vehicle Code*fn1 after she refused to submit to chemical testing following her arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

On February 28, 2007, Yourick was arrested by Officer Sheldon Summers for DUI and was taken to the Forest Hills police station, where she was asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. Officer Summers read the chemical test warnings required by Section 1547(b) of the Vehicle Code to Yourick, three times, as they appeared on the August 2006 DL-26 Implied Consent Form (DL-26 Form).*fn2

She read the form and asked questions. The first sentence of Warning 3 on DL-26 Form states: "[i]t is my duty as a police officer to inform you that if you refuse to submit to the chemical test, your operating privileges will be suspended for at least 12 months, and up to 18 months, if you have prior refusals or have been previously sentenced for driving under the influence."*fn3 Based upon her interpretation of the third paragraph of the DL-26 Form and the fact that she did not have any prior refusals, Yourick refused chemical testing.

On March 30, 2007, PennDOT notified Yourick that her driving privileges were being suspended for one year, effective May 4, 2007, as a result of her refusal to submit to chemical testing on February 28, 2007. Yourick appealed the suspension to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. The trial court held a de novo hearing on September 27, 2007. At the beginning of the hearing, Yourick stipulated that she was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol; that there were reasonable grounds for requesting that she submit to a chemical test; that she was asked to submit to a breathalyzer test; and, that she refused to take the test.

On November 16, 2007, the trial court sustained Yourick's appeal, finding that the warning read by Officer Summers from the DL-26 Form to Yourick was poorly drafted and vague, thereby preventing Yourick from making a knowing and conscious refusal.*fn4 PennDOT appealed to this Court. Our review is limited to determining whether the trial court committed an error of law or abused its discretion, and whether necessary findings of fact were supported by substantial evidence.

Reinhart v. Dep't of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing, 946 A.2d 167 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008).

PennDOT argues on appeal that the trial court erred as a matter of law in concluding that, due to what it perceived as ambiguity in the DL-26 Form warnings, Yourick could not make a knowing and conscious refusal to submit to chemical testing. We agree. However, we find that the ultimate issue before this Court is whether the DL-26 Form warning was sufficient as a matter of law.

The operation of a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania "is a privilege subject to such conditions as the legislature may see fit to impose, . . . ." Dep't of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Hoover, 606 A.2d 1264, 1266 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992) (Palladino, J., dissenting). Among the conditions imposed upon that privilege is the implied consent to submit to chemical testing where there is reasonable cause to believe a licensee is driving under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance. Hoover. Section 1547 of the Vehicle Code is a clear statement of the legislative purpose to keep drunk drivers off the roads. Id. Section 1547(b) of the Vehicle Code states:

(1) If any person placed under arrest for a violation of section 3802 [(relating to DUI)] is requested to submit to chemical testing and refuses to do so, the testing shall not be conducted but upon notice by the police officer, the department shall suspend the operating privileges of the person as follows:

(i) Except as set forth in subparagraph (ii), for a period of 12 months.

(ii) For a period of 18 months if any of the following apply:

(A) The person's operating privileges have previously been suspended under this subsection.

(B) The person has, prior to the refusal under this paragraph, been sentenced for:

(I) an offense under section 3802;

(II) an offense under former section 3731[(related to serious ...


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