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Sprecher v. Commonwealth, Department of Transportation

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

September 29, 2014

Dana Sprecher, Appellant
v.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing

Submitted April 17, 2014

Appealed from No. 13-2930. Common Pleas Court of the County of Cumberland. Masland, J.

Kelli B. Statt, Lemoyne, for appellant.

Philip M. Bricknell, Assistant Counsel, Harrisburg, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 769

BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge

Dana Sprecher appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County (trial court) denying her statutory appeal from a one-year suspension of her operating privilege imposed by the Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (Department) for her refusal to submit to a blood test. Sprecher argues that Pennsylvania's implied consent law of Section 1547(a) of the Vehicle Code, as amended, 75 Pa. C.S. § 1547(a), violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. amend. IV, prohibiting an unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant.[1] In support, she relies on Missouri v. McNeely, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 185 L.Ed.2d 696 (2013), in which the United States Supreme Court refused to adopt a per se exigency exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment for a nonconsensual blood test of a drunk-driving suspect. We find Sprecher's reliance on McNeely inapposite. Accordingly, we affirm.

The relevant facts found by the trial court are undisputed. On April 6, 2013 at approximately 1:15 a.m., Officer Scott Rood of the East Pennsboro Township Police

Page 770

Department pulled over a Ford pickup truck driven by Sprecher after observing her truck weaving and crossing the fog line. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer smelled alcohol and noticed that her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Sprecher admitted to the officer that she had consumed alcohol. The officer attempted to administer a preliminary breath test (PBT), but she did not provide sufficient air into the machine. The officer then performed field sobriety tests, which indicated that she was intoxicated. The second PBT showed an alcoholic content of 0.19% in her blood, although she did not provide sufficient air. The officer placed her under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and took her to the Cumberland County Prison where he read her the chemical testing warnings from the Form DL-26 and asked her to submit to a blood test. She refused to do so and refused to sign the Form DL-26. Subsequently, the Department notified her that her driving privilege was suspended for one year for her failure to submit to a blood test. She appealed the suspension to the trial court.

At a de novo hearing, the Department presented Officer Rood's testimony and a packet of documents to support the suspension. Sprecher testified that she told Officer Rood that she had knee problems and chronic bronchial problems, for which she was on inhalers and a prescribed medication. She further testified that she had worked in a prison in Camp Hill for 21 years and was distraught when she was taken to the prison. She stated: " I don't like needles. I was in a prison. I was scared. I don't understand why blood needed to be taken from me when I already participated in two [B]reathalyzers." Notes of Testimony at 22; Supplemental Reproduced Record at 30b.

After consideration of Officer Rood's testimony and a video showing the chemical testing warnings being given to Sprecher and her behavior at the prison, the trial court rejected her testimony as not credible. The court concluded that the Department met its burden to sustain the suspension, and that she failed to establish that her refusal to submit to chemical testing was not knowingly and consciously made or that she was physically incapable of submitting to chemical testing.[2] The court rejected her argument that Pennsylvania's implied consent law is unconstitutional under McNeely. The court noted that unlike in McNeely, she was not compelled to provide a blood sample after her refusal to submit to a blood test. The court accordingly denied her appeal.

Sprecher argues that Pennsylvania's implied consent law violates the Fourth Amendment prohibiting an unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant. She relies on the Supreme Court's statement in McNeely that " [w]e have never retreated ... from our recognition that any compelled intrusion into the human body ...


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