Motor Vehicles • Constitutional Law

Murray v. Commonwealth of Pa. Dept. of Transport., Bur. of Driver Licensing, PICS Case No. 14-0232 (C.P. Chester Feb. 14, 2014) Tunnell, J. (12 pages).

Appellant Alan Wade Murray appealed the lower court’s suspension of his driver’s license for failing to submit to a chemical test. Suspension affirmed.

On Feb. 16, 2013, Officer Jeffrey Yankanich observed that a car operated by Murray was crossing over the white sideline and left turn lanes. Yankanich pulled Murray over. Yankanich testified that he smelled an odor of alcohol on Murray’s breath, that Murray had glassy and bloodshot eyes and that Murray admitted he had had a couple of drinks. The officer administered certain field tests and a portable breath test which Murray failed. Murray was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and transported to the hospital for a blood test. Murray responded that “he did not want to supply a blood sample.” At the hospital, Murray was notified of the implied consent warnings for failure to submit to a chemical test.

Appellee Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, notified Murray his driving privilege was suspended for a period of one year pursuant to §1547(b)(1)(ii) of the Vehicle Code following his refusal to submit to a chemical test. §1547 provided that any person placed under arrest for driving under the influence who refused to submit to a chemical test shall have his/her operating privilege suspended for a specified period of time. During his hearing, Murray testified he was not aware of his legal rights and confused as he believed he was already arrested. Murray appealed the suspension, the court denied the appeal and reinstated Murray’s suspension.

On appeal, Murray alleged the lower court abused its discretion, that the DOT failed to meet its burden, that his placement in the highest level of intoxication for failure to submit to testing was unconstitutional, and refusing his right to counsel violated the constitution.

The court affirmed the lower court arguing the court’s procedures were within its discretion and not patently abused during the prior hearings. Moreover, the implied consent law provided that a driver has a right to refuse to testing with the consequence of a one-year suspension if refused. As the driver is often impaired, the standard is not “knowing and intelligent,” rather “knowing and conscience” decision to refuse. Murray claimed he did not intend to stall the testing but believed there was sufficient time to allow him to contact his attorney and was not fully aware of his legal rights. As Murray signed his name in affirmation to the implied consent law, the court held that evidenced his acknowledgement and understanding.

Further, the Supreme Court has upheld the implied consent laws and Murray failed to demonstrate Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law palpably and plainly violated any constitutional rights. Murray’s second constitutional challenge further failed as the Supreme Court held “submission to a chemical test upon being stopped for suspected DUI is an evidence-gathering circumstance, prior to the filing of any formal adversarial judicial proceedings, and as such does not constitute a critical stage for purposes of the right to counsel.” Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. McCoy, 601 Pa. 540, 591 (2009). The lower court’s suspension of Murray’s license following his refusal to submit to a chemical test was upheld.