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[U] Commonwealth v. Mason

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 27, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
DARNELL MASON, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered November 26, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, at No(s): CP-51-CR-0009144-2012

BEFORE: ALLEN, OTT and COLVILLE [*] , JJ.

MEMORANDUM

ALLEN, J.

The trial court convicted Darnell Mason, ("Appellant"), of driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(c). Appellant filed this timely appeal in which he asserts that the trial court erred in failing to suppress the results of his blood test. We affirm.

The parties stipulated to the following facts:
On June 17, 2011, at approximately 2:00 A.M., Philadelphia Police Officer Karen Lee responded to a one vehicle accident at Roosevelt Boulevard and Adams Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. Notes of Testimony, 11/26/12, p. 12. At that time, Officer Lee found Appellant standing next to a white Nissan Maxima, which had struck a large metal fixture and light pole. Id. The officer said that Appellant had glassy eyes, slurred speech, was unable to walk without assistance, and had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. Id. Appellant was transported to the hospital where he was read his O'Connell warnings by Officer Sienkiewicz and blood was drawn. Id., Notes of Testimony, 9/2/11, p. 21. At the time the blood was drawn, Appellant was unresponsive and snoring. N.T., 11/26/12, at 13. The blood was sent to a drug scan and came back indicating a blood alcohol content, within two hours of the incident, of .286 percent blood alcohol concentration.

Trial Court Opinion, 2/21/13, at 2-3.

On appeal, Appellant presents the specific question:
Did the trial court err in denying the Appellant's Motion to Suppress evidence of the blood results based upon a violation of 75 Pa.C.S.A. §1547, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution?

Appellant's Brief at 4.

We are bound by the following standard of review:
In addressing a challenge to a trial court's denial of a suppression motion, we are limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by the record and whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. Since the Commonwealth prevailed in the suppression court, we may consider only the evidence of the Commonwealth and so much of the evidence for the defense as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the record as a whole. Where the record supports the factual findings of the trial court, we are bound by those facts and may reverse only if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error.

Commonwealth v. Brown, 64 A.3d 1101, 1104 (Pa. Super. 2013) (citation omitted).

The parties stipulated to the facts of this case, such that the factual findings of the trial court are not disputed. See N.T., 11/26/12, at 10-13, supra at 1-2. Appellant argues that the trial court erred in its legal conclusion that Appellant gave his implied consent to have his blood drawn pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547(a)(1).

Upon review, we agree with the trial court's response that "Appellant's argument is unsupported by prior precedent, " as well as the Commonwealth's reply that Appellant's claim "flies in the face of well established case law." Trial Court Opinion, 2/21/13, at 5; Commonwealth Brief at 5.

The implied consent statute reads:
General rule.—Any person who drives, operates, or is in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle in this Commonwealth shall be deemed to have given consent to one or more chemical tests of breath, blood or urine for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of blood or the presence of a controlled substance if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person to have been driving, operating or in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle:
(1) in violation of section 1543(b)(1.1) (relating to driving while operating privilege is suspended or revoked), 3802 (relating to driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance) or 3808(a)(2) (relating to illegally operating a motor vehicle not equipped with ignition interlock) …

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547(a)(1) (underlined emphasis added). We have ruled that the "reasonable grounds" aspect of § 1547 requires that the police "have probable cause to believe that the driver was under the influence." Commonwealth v. Welshans, 580 A.2d 379, 380-381 (Pa. Super. 1990). As the Commonwealth notes, a blood test "is constitutionally valid if probable cause existed for a police officer to believe that a suspect has been driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance." Commonwealth Brief at 6, citing Commonwealth v. Smith, 555 A.2d 185, 189 (Pa. Super. 1989). Probable cause exists when an officer has knowledge of sufficient facts and circumstances, gained through trustworthy information, to warrant a prudent man to believe that the person seized has committed a crime. Commonwealth v. Slonaker, 795 A.2d 397, 401 (Pa. Super. 2002) (citation omitted).

There is no doubt in this case that implied consent was properly imputed to Appellant pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547(a)(1), where the police had reasonable grounds, ie., probable cause, to believe that Appellant was driving under the influence of alcohol. Philadelphia Police Officer Karen Lee testified that when she arrived at the one vehicle accident, Appellant was "wobbling, " his eyes were "bloodshot, really glassy, " and she detected "the strong odor of alcohol on his breath." N.T., 9/2/11, at 15-17. The fact that Appellant had fallen asleep at the time of his blood testing at the hospital, and was "unresponsive and snoring, " does not provide an avenue for Appellant to circumvent the clear law of this Commonwealth. Smith, supra (taking of blood sample from the defendant without his consent and without a warrant was proper under the implied consent law, as the trooper had probable cause to believe that the defendant had been under the influence of alcohol when he was driving the vehicle involved in a rollover accident; trooper testified that defendant smelled of alcohol and that defendant's eyes were glassy and bloodshot).

To the extent that Appellant relies on the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013), we find such reliance to be misplaced. Implied consent is not the focus of Missouri v. McNeely, where the defendant was stopped for erratic driving, evidenced signs of intoxication, refused a breath test and was then arrested. When the defendant continued to refuse the breath test on the way to the police station, he was transported to a hospital for a warrantless blood test. The defendant in McNeely successfully suppressed the evidence from his blood test with the Missouri trial court, the Missouri Supreme Court, and ultimately with the United States Supreme Court, on the basis that there was no exigency to justify the warrantless blood draw. The United States Supreme Court expressly held in Missouri v. McNeely that in drunk driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant. Id. at 1. Appellant seemingly concedes that McNeely is not on point with the instant case, stating that the United States Supreme Court's "holding as to the use of the 'exigent circumstances' exception to the warrant requirement is instructive regarding the claim of a consent search in the case at bar." Appellant's Brief at 9.

Much more relevant – and dispositive of Appellant's claim that his federal and state constitutional rights were violated – is our decision in Commonwealth v. Keller, 823 A.2d 1004 (Pa. Super. 2003). In Keller, we reversed the trial court's order suppressing blood test results, and held that a police officer did not violate the defendant's rights against unreasonable searches and seizures when he obtained results of defendant's blood test without a warrant. The facts of Keller are similar to Appellant's case, where the defendant was involved in a one vehicle accident. Id. at 1007. When police arrived at the accident, they noticed the defendant had an odor of alcohol, as well as glassy and bloodshot eyes. Id. Because of his injuries, the defendant was transported to the hospital. Id. He was read O'Connell warnings, but the police officer present at the time could not remember the defendant's response. Id. The police requested a blood draw, which indicated a BAC well in excess of the legal limit. Id. Under these circumstances, we concluded that the implied consent provision, 75 Pa.C.S.A. 1547(a)(1), did not violate the defendant's rights against unreasonable search and seizure under the Pennsylvania constitution. We have explained:

At its heart, the request to submit to a BAC test is a request for a search and/or seizure of the person who is the subject of the request, and is therefore a matter of search and seizure law, or a derivative thereof. A BAC test is evidence of a person's level of intoxication and, technically speaking, once a police officer develops probable cause to believe a driver has been driving under the influence of intoxicating substances, the state may constitutionally seek evidence to this effect. Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966).

Commonwealth v. Ciccola, 894 A.2d 744, 747 (Pa. Super. 2006).

Given the forgoing, we reject Appellant's claim that the results of his blood test should have been suppressed because the blood was tested in violation of the implied consent law and the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions.

Judgment of sentence affirmed.


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