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[U] Commonwealth v. Lara

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 19, 2014



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence June 26, 2012, Court of Common Pleas, Northumberland County, Criminal Division at No. CP-49-CR-0000513-2010




Hector Julio Lara ("Lara") appeals from the June 26, 2012 judgment of sentence entered by the Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas. Upon review, we affirm.

In the early morning hours of January 30, 2010, Pennsylvania State Police conducted a stop of Lara's vehicle based upon a suspicion that he was driving under the influence of alcohol ("DUI"). Specifically, police observed Lara driving between 10 and 15 miles per hour below the posted speed limit; swerve and weave within his lane of travel; change lanes without providing sufficient signaling notice to other drivers; signal far in advance of making a left turn; and drive down the middle of a roadway. Upon approaching the vehicle, police noted a strong odor of alcoholic beverages emanating from Lara's breath. Police further observed Lara's eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

After performing unsatisfactorily on several field sobriety tests, police placed Lara under arrest for DUI. Police transported Lara to Evangelical Community Hospital where Lara consented to a blood draw. The blood sample was transported to Laboratory Corporation of America ("Lab Corp"), which tested Lara's blood on February 2, 2010. Lab Corp's testing revealed a blood alcohol content ("BAC") of .136 percent.

On May 11, 2010, the Commonwealth charged Lara by criminal information with DUI – general impairment, DUI – high rate of alcohol, careless driving, and disorderly conduct.[1] The case proceeded to a bench trial before the Honorable Robert B. Scavage on April 28 and June 16, 2011. At trial, Lara called into question the procedures employed by Lab Corp to test his blood sample and presented expert testimony to support his contention that the BAC found by Lab Corp was unreliable. Following the receipt of post-trial submissions by both parties, the trial court filed an order on March 30, 2012 finding Lara guilty of careless driving, DUI – general impairment, and DUI – high rate of alcohol. It sentenced Lara on June 26, 2012 to 48 hours to six months of imprisonment, to participate in evaluations and programs, and to pay costs and fees.

Lara filed a post-sentence motion the same day raising challenges to weight and sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions, including, inter alia, the weight of the evidence to support a finding that his BAC as reported by Lab Corps was valid. In support of his motion, he relied on the post-trial submission that he provided to the trial court in advance of the trial court's verdict. The trial court denied the motion on June 27, 2012. On October 15, 2012, Lara filed a motion for permission to file a direct appeal nunc pro tunc, averring that he did not receive notice of the trial court's denial of his post-sentence motion. The trial court granted Lara's request on March 13, 2013, following which Lara filed a timely notice of appeal nunc pro tunc and complied with the trial court's order for a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). On July 17, 2013, the trial court filed a statement in lieu of an opinion pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a), stating that its March 30 order finding Lara guilty adequately addressed the issues raised in Lara's 1925(b) statement.

On appeal, Lara raises two issues for our review:
1. […] Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it did not properly address Lara's weight claims?
2. […] Given Lara's chemical test deficiencies and the overwhelming nature of his unrebutted scientific evidence – does Lara's verdict shock one's sense of justice?

Lara's Brief at 5-6.

As his first issue on appeal, Lara contends that we must remand the case to the trial court for it to rule on the weight of the evidence claim raised in his post-sentence motion regarding the adequacy of Lab Corp's BAC testing procedures. Id. at 22-25; see Post-Sentencing Motion, 6/26/12, at Appendix 1. In support of his argument, he cites Commonwealth v. Brown, 538 Pa. 410, 436, 648 A.2d 1177, 1190 (1994) ("Because of a disparity in vantage points[, ] an appellate court is not empowered to merely substitute its own opinion concerning the weight of the evidence for that of the trial judge."), and Commonwealth v. Ragan, 653 A.2d 1286, 1288 (Pa.Super. 1995) ("where an appellant challenged the weight of the evidence but the trial court ...

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