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Commonwealth v. Miller

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 3, 2018


          Appeal from the Order Entered May 1, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-14-CR-0000150-2017

          BEFORE: PANELLA, J., OLSON, J., and STEVENS [*] , P.J.E.


          OLSON, J.

         The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appeals from the May 1, 2017 order granting Gary William Miller's ("Appellee's") motion to suppress blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") test results, obtained after the reading of the newly-revised DL-26B form and without a warrant, during the course of a driving under the influence ("DUI") investigation. Appellee argues that, because of a prior DUI arrest in which he received warnings pursuant to the prior DL-26 form, Appellee subjectively believed that the new form threatened enhanced criminal punishment if he refused to consent to a blood draw. We hold that, under these circumstances, Appellee's (incorrect) subjective belief regarding the law cannot form the basis for the suppression of his BAC results. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's suppression order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         The factual background of this case is as follows. On June 29, 2016, Officer Robert Holt responded to a motor vehicle accident. Officer Holt suspected that Appellee, a driver of a vehicle involved in the accident, was intoxicated and requested Appellee perform field sobriety tests. Appellee failed those tests and was arrested for suspicion of DUI.

         Officer Holt transported Appellee to the hospital where he read him the DL-26B form. That form informed Appellee that he would face possible civil penalties for failing to submit to a blood test; however, the form did not include a warning regarding enhanced criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. Thereafter, Appellee consented to the blood draw which showed that he had a BAC of .223.

         The procedural history of this case is as follows. On February 16, 2017, the Commonwealth charged Appellee via criminal information with DUI - general impairment[1] and DUI - highest rate.[2] On February 23, 2017, Appellee moved to suppress the blood draw evidence. The trial court conducted a suppression hearing on March 28, 2017. On May 1, 2017, the trial court granted Appellee's suppression motion. The Commonwealth filed a timely notice of appeal.[3] See Pa.R.A.P. 311(d) (providing that the Commonwealth may take an appeal as of right from an interlocutory order that substantially handicaps a prosecution).

         The Commonwealth presents one issue for our review:

Did the trial court err in granting Appellee's [m]otion to [s]uppress because[, ] based on the totality of the circumstances, Appellee voluntarily consented to the blood draw because, inter alia, he was not told that he would face harsher criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test?

Commonwealth's Brief at 4.

         The Commonwealth's sole issue challenges the trial court's suppression order. We review a trial court's order suppressing evidence for an abuse of discretion and our scope of review consists of "only the evidence from the defendant's witnesses along with the Commonwealth's evidence that remains uncontroverted." Commonwealth v. Maguire, 175 A.3d 288, 291 (Pa. Super. 2017) (citations omitted).

         Contemporaneously with this opinion, we issued Commonwealth v. Robertson, 1493 MDA 2017 (Pa. Super. May 3, 2018). In Robertson, we held that defendants are presumed to know case law in addition to statutory law. Id. (slip op. at 9-12). Moreover, in Robertson we rejected the argument that police have an affirmative duty to inform defendants that they do not face enhanced criminal penalties if they refuse a blood test. Id. (slip op. at 12-13). Hence, we reject the trial court's rationale for granting Appellee's suppression motion.

         Having determined that the trial court's rationale was flawed, we turn to the alternative bases for affirmance advanced by Appellee; i.e. the totality of the circumstances establish that Appellees did not voluntarily consent to the blood draw. Under Commonwealth v. Evans, 153 A.3d 323 (Pa. Super. 2016), a trial court must consider the totality of the circumstances when determining if a defendant's consent to a blood draw was voluntary. Id. at 328 (citation omitted). As our Supreme Court explained:

While there is no hard and fast list of factors evincing voluntariness, some considerations include: 1) the defendant's custodial status; 2) the use of duress or coercive tactics by law enforcement personnel; 3) the defendant's knowledge of his right to refuse to consent; 4) the defendant's education and intelligence; 5) the defendant's belief that no incriminating evidence will be ...

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