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Commonwealth v. Segida

December 29, 2009

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT
v.
PAUL A. SEGIDA, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered October 24, 2006, at No. 2222 WDA 2005, reversing the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County entered December 14, 2005, at No. CP-02-CR-0016500-2004. 912 A.2d 841 (Pa.Super. 2006).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice McCAFFERY

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, GREENSPAN, JJ.

SUBMITTED: March 17, 2008

OPINION

In this appeal by the Commonwealth, we consider whether the offense of driving under the influence ("DUI") set forth at 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(a)(1) is an "at the time of driving" offense. While we agree with the Superior Court's conclusion that it is such an offense and so hold, we conclude that the Superior Court erred in determining that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction in this case. Accordingly, we vacate the order of the Superior Court and remand to the trial court.

On September 19, 2004, at approximately 12:20 a.m., Officer Patrick Hillyard was dispatched to investigate a report of a one-vehicle accident. He arrived at the scene within a few minutes, to find a vehicle at the top of a hillside in some brush, rotated 180 degrees.

Paul A. Segida ("Appellee"), who with his brother was standing near the vehicle, acknowledged that he was the owner of the vehicle, that he had been driving, and that he had lost control of the vehicle after he started arguing with his brother. While conversing with Appellee, Officer Hillyard detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from his person. Upon further questioning, Appellee admitted that he had been drinking at one of the local clubs and had been driving home when the accident occurred. Officer Hillyard then asked Appellee to perform three field sobriety tests, all of which Appellee performed very badly. Based on the field sobriety test results, Officer Hillyard concluded that Appellee was incapable of safely driving at that time, and accordingly placed Appellee under arrest and drove him to a hospital to have his blood alcohol level tested. The test results revealed that Appellee had a very high blood alcohol level: 0.326 percent.

Appellee was charged with two counts of DUI: 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(a)(1) (General impairment) and 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(c) (Highest rate of alcohol). On October 20, 2005, a bench trial was held before the Honorable Cheryl Allen,*fn1 in which Officer Hillyard was the only witness to testify. Judge Allen found Appellee guilty of both counts.*fn2 On December 14, 2005, Appellee was sentenced to serve 180 days of intermediate punishment on electronic monitoring and three years' probation.

Appellee appealed his judgment of sentence to the Superior Court, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to sustain either one of his DUI convictions because the Commonwealth had failed to produce any evidence as to the time when Appellee drank, when he drove, or when the accident occurred. Commonwealth v. Segida, 912 A.2d 841, 844 (Pa.Super. 2006). The Commonwealth conceded that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Appellee had violated Section 3802(c) (Highest rate of alcohol).*fn3 The Superior Court held that the evidence was insufficient to support either of Appellee's DUI convictions and accordingly reversed Appellee's judgment of sentence. Segida, supra at 844, 850. With regard to Section 3802(a)(1), the Superior Court concluded that the Commonwealth had not established when Appellee was driving, and thus had failed to prove that Appellee was incapable of driving safely at the time that he was driving. Id. at 850. The Superior Court acknowledged that a reasonable fact-finder could have concluded that, when Officer Hillyard arrived at the scene of the accident, Appellee was incapable of safe driving. Id. at 847. However, the Superior Court concluded that because the Commonwealth had failed to establish any temporal connection between the time of the accident and the time that the officer arrived at the scene, it had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellee was incapable of safely driving at the time he was driving. Id. at 847-50. In addition, the Superior Court opined that there was another difficulty with the Commonwealth's offer of proof, i.e., the Commonwealth had not precluded the possibility that Appellant ingested alcohol after the accident had occurred. Id. at 848-49.

The Commonwealth petitioned this Court for allowance of appeal, seeking review of the Superior Court's decision with respect to Section 3802(a)(1). We granted the Commonwealth's petition, which expressed the issue for review as follows:

In finding insufficient evidence to support the 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(a)(1) DUI offense, did the Superior Court err in determining what the elements are for a Section 3802(a)(1) DUI offense and err in concluding it is an "at the time of driving" offense?

Commonwealth v. Segida, 937 A.2d 419 (Pa. 2007).

The issue presented is one of statutory interpretation, which, as a question of law, requires that we apply a de novo standard of review. Commonwealth v. Hoke, 962 A.2d 664, 666 (Pa. 2009). Pursuant to the Statutory Construction Act,*fn4 our task in interpreting a statute is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly. Id. at 667 (citing 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(a)). In general, the best indication of legislative intent is the plain language of the statute. Commonwealth v. Fithian, 961 A.2d 66, 74 (Pa. 2008). "When the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit." 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(b). When the statutory text is not explicit, we may consider, inter alia, the mischief to be remedied by the statute, the object to be attained, and the consequences of a particular interpretation. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(c). We may not add words or phrases in construing a statute unless the added words are necessary for a proper interpretation, do not conflict with the obvious intent of the statute, and do not in any way affect its scope and operation. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1923(c); Hoke, supra at 667. However, we may consider the title and the preamble of the statute. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1924. Finally, we presume that the General Assembly does not intend a result that is absurd or unreasonable. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1922(1); Commonwealth v. Bavusa, 832 A.2d 1042, 1050 (Pa. 2003).

The statute at issue here is the following:

§ 3802. Driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance

(a) General impairment.--

(1) An individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the individual is rendered incapable of safely driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.

(2) An individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the alcohol concentration in the individual's blood or breath is at least 0.08% but less than 0.10% within two hours after the individual has driven, operated or been in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.

(b) High rate of alcohol.-- An individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the alcohol concentration in the individual's blood or breath is at least 0.10% but less than 0.16% within two hours after the individual has driven, operated or been in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.

(c) Highest rate of alcohol.-- An individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the alcohol concentration in the individual's blood or breath is 0.16% or higher within two hours after the individual has driven, operated or been in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.

75 Pa.C.S. § 3802 (emphasis added to text of subsection (a)(1)).

The General Assembly enacted Section 3802 on September 30, 2003, and it became effective on February 1, 2004, repealing and replacing the prior DUI statute, which had been found at 75 Pa.C.S. § 3731. See Commonwealth v. Duda, 923 A.2d 1138, 1140 n.1 (Pa. 2007). Under the now-repealed Section 3731, it was and is undisputed that the proscribed conduct was driving "while under the influence of alcohol to a degree which renders the person incapable of safe driving," or driving "while the amount of alcohol by weight in the blood of the person is 0.10% or greater." 75 Pa.C.S. § 3731(a)(1) and (a)(4), respectively, (repealed) (emphasis added). See Duda, supra at 1141-44 (setting forth a brief review of the historical background to the repeal of Section 3731 and enactment of Section 3802). This Court has already made clear that, in contrast to the now-repealed subsection 3731(a)(4), which required a specific blood alcohol level at the time of driving, subsection 3802(a)(2) deems irrelevant a motorist's blood alcohol level at the time that he or she was driving. Duda, supra at 1147. Rather, under subsection 3802(a)(2), the relevant determination is a motorist's blood alcohol level within two hours after driving. Id.

The question presented in the instant case is whether, by analogy to subsection 3802(a)(2), subsection 3802(a)(1) does not require the Commonwealth to prove that a motorist had been rendered incapable of safely driving at the time that he or she actually drove. In other words, does subsection 3802(a)(1) resemble subsection 3802(a)(2) in that the actual time of driving is not included in the elements of the offense? Or, alternatively, does subsection 3802(a)(1) resemble the repealed subsection 3731(a)(1) in that an element of the offense is driving while incapable of doing so safely? More succinctly, the issue can be stated as follows: is subsection 3802(a)(1) an "at the time of driving" offense?

This Court has not previously had the occasion to interpret subsection 3802(a)(1); however, we have upheld subsection 3802(a)(2) in the face of a constitutional challenge. See Duda, supra at 1147-52. Although Duda did not include a challenge to subsection 3802(a)(1), we compared subsection 3802(a)(1) to subsection (a)(2) in that case as follows:

Section 3802(a) represents a legislative enlargement of the prohibited conduct so that it is now unlawful, not only to drive while under the influence, see 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(a)(1), but also to ingest a substantial amount of alcohol and then operate a motor vehicle before the alcohol is dissipated to below a defined threshold (here, 0.08%), regardless of the level of absorption into the bloodstream at the actual moment of driving. That this is so is evident from the plain text of subsection (a)(2),. which defines the offense to include two elements: that the individual drove after drinking alcohol, and that the amount of alcohol ingested before driving was enough to cause the individuals [blood alcohol] level to be at least 0.08 percent and below 0.10 percent within two hours after driving.

Duda, supra at 1147 (bold emphasis added).

We recognize that the statement in Duda concerning subsection 3802(a)(1) is dicta. Nonetheless, it suggests the view that the elements of subsection 3802(a)(1), like those of the repealed subsection 3731(a)(1), are that an offender drive while incapable of safely driving due to consumption of alcohol.

In several cases, the Superior Court has specifically addressed subsection 3802(a)(1), similarly and consistently implying that the offense is an "at the time of driving" offense. In Commonwealth v. Kerry, 906 A.2d 1237 (Pa.Super. 2006), the appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his conviction under subsection 3802(a)(1). The Superior ...


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