Birchfield v. North Dakota - States May Not Punish DUI Blood Test Refusals

DUI Defense Update - Birchfield v. North Dakota

The United States Supreme Court recently issued a critical opinion which has already had a dramatic effect on Driving Under the Influence ("DUI/DWI") litigation in Pennsylvania and many other states. In Birchfield v. North Dakota, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to criminally penalize a motorist for refusing to submit to a DUI blood test when the police have not obtained a search warrant for the motorist's blood. This holding is a major development in Pennsylvania because the DUI statute, 75 Pa.C.S. 3802, provided enhanced criminal penalties for a motorist who refused the blood draw and was later found guilty of DUI. Now, unless the police obtain a warrant, a motorist cannot be punished with additional jail time or other additional criminal penalties for refusing the blood draw. The prosecutor may be able to comment on the refusal at trial, but the motorist cannot receive additional jail time or a higher gradation on a conviction. 

New Defenses in Drug DUI Cases and Blood Test DUI Cases

The holding is also critically important for many defendants who have already been arrested for DUI and either refused the blood test or had their blood drawn without a warrant. Birchfield is particularly important because the Court also recognized that where the arresting officers improperly inform a defendant that the failure to submit to a blood draw will result in criminal penalties, the trial court may be required to exclude the results of the blood test as the product of unconstitutional coercion. 

The Impact on DUI Charges in Philadelphia

This holding is particularly relevant in Philadelphia and much of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, DUI blood draws are supervised by the Accident Investigation Division of the Philadelphia Police Department. Prior to each blood draw, the AID Division would read what are known as the O'Connell warnings to the defendant. The O'Connell warnings historically included a statement to the defendant that refusal to submit to a blood test, even where the police had not obtained a warrant, would result in increased criminal penalties should the defendant be convicted of DUI at trial. Likewise, the State Police read a very similar form when they supervised DUI-related blood testing. The warnings may now be constitutionally defective and could require a court to exclude the results of the blood draw obtained pursuant to these coercive warnings.  

Contact a Philadelphia DUI Defense Attorney Today

Philadelphia DUI Lawyers

Philadelphia DUI Lawyers

If you have been arrested for DUI, it is absolutely critical that you consult with experienced defense counsel. As I have explained in previous posts, there are often defenses available which only an experienced criminal lawyer will recognize. Prosecutors are handling these cases differently in different jurisdictions, and many state trial courts have not yet ruled on how Birchfield changes the rules in Pennsylvania. If you have been charged with DUI and the Police conducted a blood draw or asked you to submit to a blood draw, you need an experienced criminal lawyer to evaluate your case, recognize the potential defenses, and make the right legal arguments on your behalf. Call 267-225-2545 today for a free, honest consultation.