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Commonwealth v. Landis

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 8, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
DANIEL EUGENE LANDIS, II, Appellant

Argued October 23, 2013

Page 695

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Juniata County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-34-CR-0000167-2010. Before MUMMAH, J.

Shawn M. Dorward, Harrisburg, for appellant.

Cory J. Snook, Assistant District Attorney, Mifflintown, for Commonwealth, appellee.

BEFORE: BENDER, P.J., WECHT, and FITZGERALD,[*] JJ.

OPINION

Page 696

FITZGERALD, J.

Appellant, Daniel Eugene Landis, II, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered in the Juniata County Court of Common Pleas after a jury found him guilty of, inter alia, driving under the influence (DUI)--incapable of safely driving and DUI--highest rate of alcohol.[1] Appellant claims that he is entitled to (1) a new trial because the finding that his blood-alcohol level was over .16% within two hours of driving was against the weight of the evidence and (2) the suppression of the evidence against him because the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to conduct a traffic stop. We hold that Appellant is entitled to a new trial on the count of DUI--highest rate of alcohol because the blood-alcohol test result of .164%, which was was relied on by the Commonwealth, was subject to a 10% margin of error and there was no further evidence to sustain the jury's finding that his blood alcohol level was .16% or above within two hours of driving. Additionally, we conclude that the absence of the trial court's statement of its findings of fact and conclusions of law preclude meaningful appellate review of Appellant's challenge to the court's suppression ruling. Therefore, we vacate the judgment of sentence reverse the order denying Appellant's request for a new trial, vacate the order denying suppression, and remand for further proceedings.

Appellant's convictions arise from a traffic stop that occurred at 2:40 a.m. on April 4, 2010. Prior to the stop, Pennsylvania State Troopers Robby J. Murphy and Dustin T. Shaffer were patrolling on northbound State Route 35, when they observed a Chevrolet pickup truck being operated by Appellant. Trooper Shaffer testified that he followed Appellant for two miles. During that time, Appellant weaved within his lane of travel, " cross[ed]" the center double-yellow line on two occasions, and " veered onto" the double-yellow line as a southbound vehicle was passing. N.T. Prelim. Hr'g, 9/8/10, at 5.

The troopers conducted a traffic stop, and after engaging Appellant, Trooper Shaffer smelled a strong odor of alcohol. Appellant admitted he drank alcohol earlier in the evening, and the trooper administered a preliminary breath test, which returned positive for alcohol.[2] The trooper asked Appellant to exit his truck and perform field sobriety tests. Appellant failed the walk-and-turn test, but passed the one-leg-stand test. The trooper noticed that Appellant's eyes were red, and his actions were slow.

The troopers took Appellant into custody and transported him to Lewistown Hospital [3] for blood testing. A medical technician drew Appellant's blood at 3:18 a.m. and conducted a test using an Avid Axsym machine. The testing required that the technician place a reagent in the machine and set up a standard, a control, and the sample of Appellant's blood for testing. Once set, the machine added the reagent and printed the test results of the standard,

Page 697

control, and Appellant's blood. The machine reported that Appellant's blood-alcohol content was 163.88 milligrams per deciliter, or .164%.[4]

Appellant was charged with DUI--incapable of safely driving, DUI--highest rate of alcohol, and summary traffic violations. Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained following the traffic stop. On March 9, 2011, the suppression court convened a hearing, at which time Appellant and the Commonwealth agreed to incorporate a transcript of the preliminary hearing into the suppression record. N.T. Suppression, 3/9/11, at 3-5. The Commonwealth additionally called Trooper Shaffer to testify. Id. at 5. The court, upon consideration of the trooper's testimony and the preliminary hearing transcript, entered an order denying suppression, but did not provide a statement of its findings of fact and conclusions of law.

A jury trial was held on June 1, 2012. The Commonwealth, inter alia, called the medical technician who drew Appellant's blood and tested it using the Avid Axsym machine.[5] Appellant cross-examined the technician and the following exchange occurred:

[Appellant's Counsel:] Are you aware of the margin of error for the Axsym machine that you utilize at Lewistown Hospital?
[Witness:] Yes.
[Appellant's Counsel]: And what's that margin of error?
[Witness:] Ten percent.
[Appellant's Counsel:] And that ten percent is not taken into consideration with the report of that .16388?
[Witness:] As long as our controls and standards are in.
[Appellant's Counsel:] I don't think I got your response as far as--
[Witness:] No.
[Appellant's Counsel:] . . . [T]he margin of error is not taken into consideration with the report of .16388.
[Witness:] No.

N.T., 6/1/12, at 105-06. On redirect examination, the Commonwealth elicited the following testimony from the technician:

[Commonwealth:] Now you also testified as to the margin of error being ten percent. Is that the same for ...

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