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Commonwealth v. Ennels

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 11, 2017


         Appeal from the Suppression Order October 19, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-06-CR-0002605-2016

          BEFORE: SHOGAN, J., MOULTON, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]


          MOULTON, J.

         The Commonwealth appeals from the October 19, 2016 order entered by the Berks County Court of Common Pleas granting Appellee John Lamonte Ennels' motion to suppress the results of a warrantless blood test.[1]On appeal, the Commonwealth makes two arguments: (1) that the ban on warrantless blood tests set out in Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160 (2016), does not apply to those suspected of driving under the influence ("DUI") of controlled substances, as opposed to alcohol; and (2) that, in any event, Ennels' consent to the test was not tainted by an inaccurate warning of the consequences of refusal. Because we disagree with both contentions, we affirm.

         The trial court set forth the following facts:

1. On or about Saturday, March 12, 2016, Reading Police Officer Marco Rodriguez responded to the 1098 block of Penn Street in the City of Reading for a reported vehicle accident.
2. At that time, police were advised via dispatch that one of the vehicles involved in the accident was attempting to leave the scene.
3. Officer Contreras[2] initiated a traffic stop on the vehicle that was reportedly leaving the scene.
4. The driver of that vehicle was identified to be . . . Ennels.
5. Officer Rodriguez parked his patrol car in front of [Ennels'] vehicle and Officer Contreras' patrol car was parked behind [Ennels'] vehicle.
6. As per Officer Rodriguez's testimony, he parked his car in front of [Ennels'] car "to prevent the vehicle from attempting to leave again."
7. At that time, the officer noted the overwhelming smell of marijuana emanating from the vehicle.
8. Officer Rodriguez asked [Ennels] to step out of the vehicle.
9. The vehicle was searched and a partially-smoked blunt of what was later determined to be marijuana was found inside the vehicle.
10. As a result of the traffic stop, [Ennels] was arrested for DUI and transported to St. Joseph's Medical Center.
11. [Ennels'] vehicle was towed from the scene of the accident because he was taken into custody, officers determined that [Ennels'] license was suspended, and there were no available drivers to remove the vehicle from the scene of the accident.
12. At approximately 20:27 hours, Officer Rodriguez asked [Ennels] to submit to a blood draw and read the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation DL-26 form to [Ennels].
13. [Ennels] signed the DL-26 form in the presence of Officer Rodriguez.
14. The DL-26 form was admitted into evidence as Commonwealth Exhibit 2.
15. [Ennels] submitted to chemical blood testing at 20:43 hours.
16.At that time, [Ennels] did not express any hesitation or concern with the DL-26 warnings.
17. After [Ennels'] blood was drawn, he was transported home by Officer Contreras.

         Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Disposition of Defendant's Omnibus Pretrial Motion, 10/19/16, at 2-3 ("Suppression Op.").

         On March 12, 2016, Ennels was charged with DUI (controlled substance) and DUI (general impairment).[3] On August 1, 2016, Ennels filed a motion to suppress the results of the blood test. On September 2, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing and, on October 19, 2016, it granted the motion. The Commonwealth filed a timely notice of appeal.

         The Commonwealth raises the following issues on appeal:

A. Did the trial court err in suppressing evidence of [Ennels'] blood test results pursuant to Birchfield v. North Dakota, __ U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 195 L.Ed.2d 560 (2016) in a drug-related DUI prosecution, where blood testing is the only available method in Pennsylvania to determine whether a suspect is driving under the influence of a controlled substance, and thus the Pennsylvania implied consent statute is wholly enforceable?
B. Did the trial court err in suppressing evidence of [Ennels'] blood test results pursuant to Birchfield v. North Dakota, __U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 195 L.Ed.2d 560 (2016) in a drug-related DUI prosecution, where the potential penalties listed on the DL-26 form properly reflected the penalties related to drug-related DUI convictions, rendering the consent to the blood draw voluntary?

Cmwlth's Br. at 4 (unnecessary capitalization omitted).

         When reviewing the grant of a suppression motion, we must determine whether the record supports the trial court's factual findings and "whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct." Commonwealth v. Brown, 64 A.3d 1101, 1104 (Pa.Super. 2013) (quoting Commonwealth v. Cauley, 10 A.3d 321, 325 (Pa.Super. 2010)). We may only consider evidence presented at the suppression hearing. In re L.J., 79 A.3d 1073, 1085-87 (Pa. 2013). In addition, because the defendant prevailed on this issue before the suppression court, we consider only the defendant's evidence and so much of the Commonwealth's evidence "as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the record as a whole." Brown, 64 A.3d at 1104 (quoting Cauley, 10 A.3d at 325). We may reverse only if the legal conclusions drawn from the facts are in error. Id.

         The trial court granted Ennels' motion to suppress the results of the blood test based on Birchfield. Noting that (1) Birchfield held that "implied consent laws that impose criminal penalties on drivers who refuse to submit to blood tests violate the Fourth Amendment, " Suppression Op., Concl. of Law, ¶ 10, (2) the police did not obtain a warrant prior to administration of the blood test, id. ¶ 11, and (3) the DL-26 form informed Ennels that he could be subject to enhanced penalties if he refused the test, id. ¶¶ 13-15, the trial court concluded that Ennels' "consent was not given freely, specifically, unequivocally, and voluntarily" and suppressed the results. Id. ¶ 18.

         I. Birchfield and Drug-Related DUI Prosecutions

         The Commonwealth first argues that Birchfield has "limited applicability to drug-related DUI prosecutions." Cmwlth's Br. at 9; see also id. at 14 (Birchfield "provides little guidance in drug-related DUI prosecutions."). Because the Birchfield Court relied on the availability of warrantless breath tests in holding warrantless blood tests unconstitutional, and because breath tests are only useful in determining the presence and amount of alcohol (but not drugs) in a suspect's system, the Commonwealth contends that the constitutional balance must be struck differently in DUI cases involving controlled substances. In effect, the Commonwealth asks this Court to hold that warrantless blood tests are permissible in drug-related DUI investigations.

         Birchfield involved challenges to the use of both warrantless breath tests and warrantless blood tests to determine the blood alcohol content ("BAC") of an individual arrested for DUI.[4] In a set of consolidated cases, the government parties argued that the administration of the tests was constitutional under both the search-incident-to-arrest and implied-consent exceptions to the warrant requirement.[5] In assessing those government arguments, the Court engaged in a familiar balancing analysis, "examin[ing] the degree to which [the tests] intrude upon an individual's privacy and . . . the degree to which they are needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests." Birchfield, 136 S.Ct. at 2176 (quoting Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 2484 (2014)) (internal quotation marks and some internal brackets omitted); see also id. at 2185 n.8 ("[O]ur decision in Riley calls for a balancing of individual privacy interests and legitimate state interests to determine the reasonableness of the category of warrantless search that is at issue.").

         First, the Court addressed the impact of each test on an individual's privacy interests. As to breath tests, the Court reasoned that: they involve an "almost negligible" physical intrusion, id. at 2176; "[e]xhalation is a natural process, " id. at 2177; the tests "are capable of revealing only one bit of information, the amount of alcohol in the subject's breath, " id.; and the tests are unlikely "to cause any great enhancement in the embarrassment that is inherent in any arrest, " id. Accordingly, the Court concluded that "breath test[s] do[] not implicate significant privacy concerns." Id. at 2178 (internal quotation marks omitted; some alterations in original).

         In contrast, the Court found that blood tests are "significantly more intrusive." Id. at 2184; see also id. at 2178. It reasoned that: the tests "'require piercing the skin' and extract[ing] a part of the subject's body"; unlike exhaling air, "humans do not continually shed blood"; and a blood sample may be preserved by the police and contains "information beyond a simple BAC reading." Id. at 2178.

         The Court next addressed "the States' asserted need to obtain BAC readings for persons arrested for drunk driving, " id., and the relationship between that need and "[t]he laws at issue in the present cases - which make it a crime to refuse to submit to a BAC test, " id. at 2179. Noting that state and federal governments have a "paramount interest . . . in preserving the safety of . . . public highways, " id. at 2178 (quoting Mackey v. Montrym, 443 U.S. 1, 17 (1979)) (alterations in original), and that alcohol continues to be a leading cause of traffic fatalities and injuries, id., the Court concluded ...

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