Supreme Court Strikes Down Part Of The Pennsylvania’s DUI Law – Could It Help You?

February 8, 2019

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Monarch which addressed the Constitutionality of sentencing enhancements for refusal to submit to a blood test in a DUI case. Mr. Monarch was arrested for DUI and refused a blood test despite being warned that he could be subjected to additional penalties for refusing to submit to a blood test. He was tried for DUI and other offenses. At the conclusion of his jury trial, the court instructed the jury that if they found him guilty of DUI they would also have to "make a finding either he did not or did refuse the testing of blood," which the jury did find. Based on the jury's finding, his DUI conviction was increased and he became subject to a mandatory minimum term of one year imprisonment.

While Mr. Monarch's appeal was pending, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Birchfield v. North Dakota, which ruled that warrantless blood tests violated a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. The Commonwealth argued that Birchfield should not be applied retroactively, Monarch waived the issue by not raising it initially, and that Monarch also refused a breath test which Birchfield ruled was permissible and could support the enhancement.

The Pennsylvania disagreed with each of the Commonwealth's assertions and ultimately determined that because the warrantless blood test was unlawful, the defendant "could not be subject to a criminal conviction based on his refusal to submit to an unlawful search." The Court also found that because the issue dealt with the legality of Monarch's sentence, the issue could not be waived by him. Furthermore, the Court found while the sentencing enhancement may have been constitutional based on a refusal of a breath test, because the jury was specifically asked and responded to a question about a blood test, the sentence was unconstitutional. Monarch's case was therefore remanded for resentencing.

It remains to be seen whether this ruling will actually make a difference for Mr. Monarch because he also refused a breath test, which could potentially support a sentencing enhancement even after Birchfield. Therefore, the resentencing may just confirm the original sentence based on a different fact. However, the case carries several important points. First, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reaffirmed that Birchfield represents that warrantless blood tests in DUI cases are unconstitutional and any penalties based on a refusal in that respect are illegal. Furthermore, it shows that the legality or illegality of a sentence in a criminal case is always at issue and should be examined. Finally, this case demonstrates the serious ripple effect that Birchfield has on all aspects of DUI cases, and the importance of having a skilled attorney with you for every aspect of your DUI case.

In situations such as this, defendants need counsel with the experience that can make the difference. Please contact our offices for a free consultation so we can discuss how our years of criminal law experience can be used to benefit you.