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Spotlight Issue: What is the status of DUI's in Berks County following the Birchfield decision?

DUI law in Berks County is currently in question following the US Supreme Court's decision in a case called Birchfield v. North Dakota. The Birchfield case addressed a number of issues including warrantless requests for chemical testing, the implied consent warnings that are read when chemical testing is requested by the police and enhanced penalties for refusal to submit to the testing.

In Pennsylvania prior to the Birchfield decision, if a police officer had probable cause to believe that a driver was DUI (from either alcohol or drugs) then he could request that the driver submit to a breath or blood test without having to obtain a warrant for that search. At the time that the request for breath or blood was made, the officer had to read implied consent warnings to the driver which put the driver on notice that consent to the testing was implied under PA law and any refusal to submit to the testing would result in enhanced criminal and civil penalties. A subsequent refusal to submit to the testing would lead to increased jail time and fines as well as an automatic license suspension.

So what has changed about DUI since the Birchfield decision? Well, there are a lot of questions about what the case means and how chemical testing and refusals should be handled. Here's what we know so far.

The Birchfield Court held that a warrant is required for police to request a test of a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) by blood test. There is no longer a "search incident to arrest" exception to the general rule that a warrant is required before a search is conducted. However, that is only true for BLOOD tests; a breath test can still be requested without a warrant if it is done incident to a DUI arrest. Does this matter in Berks County? Yes, because the majority of police departments in Berks County relied on blood tests instead of breath tests. What does that mean for you if you were arrested for a DUI and a blood test was requested without a warrant? It means that you need one of our experienced Reading, PA DUI lawyers to evaluate your case and possibly file a pretrial motion on your behalf. This will bring your case in front of a judge to decide whether the request for a warrantless blood draw was lawful.
The PA implied consent warnings that were read when blood testing was requested following a DUI arrest may have been coercive according to the Birchfield Court's ruling. The forms included the statement that refusal to submit to the testing and a subsequent DUI conviction would result in "more severe penalties ..., the same as if you would be convicted of driving with the highest rate of alcohol." (as stated in the PA DL-26 form). The question for the PA courts is whether or not this threat of enhanced penalties which have been found to be unlawful by the Birchfield Court negate any consent given by the driver to submit to chemical testing. What does that mean for you if you were arrested for a DUI and consented to a blood test after being read the implied consent warning? It means that you need one of our experienced Reading, PA DUI lawyers to evaluate your case and possibly file a pretrial motion on your behalf. This will bring your case in front of a judge to decide whether your consent to the blood test was freely given.
Perhaps the biggest change from the Birchfield case will come as a result of the Court's ruling that drivers may not be punished criminally for refusing to submit to blood testing. Please note that this does not apply to breath tests. This could mean that the enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test in PA's vehicle code section 3804(c) are unlawful. 3804(c) says that a driver who refuses to submit to chemical testing and is later convicted of a DUI will be sentenced as if he had the highest rate of alcohol. The Birchfield Court did say that enhanced civil penalties are permissible so the automatic license suspension for a refusal will most likely remain in place. What does that mean for you if you were arrested for a DUI and refused to submit to a blood test? It means that you need one of our experienced Berks County DUI lawyers to evaluate your case and possibly file a pretrial motion on your behalf. This will bring your case in front of a judge to decide whether you were properly charged with enhanced penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test.

What should you conclude from all of this information? If you have a pending DUI charge then you may be able to receive a reduced sentence as a result of the current confusion. However, that won't happen automatically. You need to contact one of our experienced Berks County DUI attorneys so that we can start working on your case as soon as possible. Call us today at 610-372-5128 or email us at [email protected]

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