Admissibility • Blood Test Results • DUI Charges • Invalid Consent
Commonwealth v. Ennels, PICS Case No. 17-0712 (Pa. Super July 11, 2017) Moulton, J. (25 pages).
The trial court did not err in finding that defendant’s consent to a blood test was invalid where he only consented to the blood draw after being informed by police that he faced enhanced criminal penalties for failing to do so. The court affirmed an order granting defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of a blood draw.
City of Reading Police Officers responded to the report of a motor vehicle accident on Penn Street on March 2, 2016. One officer initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle that was reportedly attempting to leave the scene. After conducting a traffic stop, police noticed the overwhelming smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle. Officers asked the driver, the defendant charged in this matter, to exit the vehicle. Upon searching the vehicle, police found a partially smoked blunt that was later determined to be marijuana. Police arrested defendant and transported him to St. Joseph’s Medical Center. They then asked defendant to submit to a blood draw and read him the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation DL-26 form. Defendant signed the form in the presence of police officers and later submitted to chemical testing. He did not express any hesitation or concern with the Dl-26 warnings. The Commonwealth charged defendant with driving under the influence (controlled substance) and driving under the influence (general impairment). Upon defendant’s request, the trial court suppressed his blood test results pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016). Birchfield held that implied consent laws that impose criminal penalties on drivers who refuse to submit to blood tests violate the Fourth Amendment. The trial court also considered that police did not obtain a warrant prior to administering the blood test and that the DL-26 form informed defendant that he could be subject to enhanced penalties if he refused the test. Thus, the trial court concluded that defendant’s consent was not given freely, specifically, unequivocally and voluntarily. On appeal, the Commonwealth argued that Birchfield had limited applicability to drug-related DUI prosecutions. The court rejected this argument, noting the Birchfield Court considered and rejected the claim that warrantless blood tests should be permissible as searches incident to an arrest because they can detect substances other than alcohol. The appellate court disagreed with the Commonwealth’s contention that Birchfield was inapplicable to cases in which a driver has been arrested for a drug-related DUI. “No matter the substance suspected of affecting a particular arrestee, Birchfield requires that a blood test be authorized either by a warrant (or case-specific exigency), or by individual consent not based on the pain of criminal consequences.” The court reasoned that since defendant consented to the blood draw after being advised that he faced enhanced criminal penalties for failing to do so, the trial court did not err in finding defendant’s consent was invalid.
Judge Stevens dissented, arguing that under the totality of the circumstances, defendant provided valid consent to the warrantless blood test and that the consent was not tainted by an inaccurate warning of the consequences of refusal.