PA Superior Court Rejects Good Faith Exception to Exclusionary Rule in Birchfield Cases

Commonwealth v. Carper

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Carper. In Carper, the Court held that prosecutors may not introduce illegally obtained blood test results in Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) cases despite the fact that the police relied on then-settled law which permitted warrantless blood testing of DUI suspects. The Superior Court specifically rejected the application of the “good faith exception” and held that the evidence remains inadmissible despite the fact that the police officers may have acted in good faith and not realized that they were violating the law. 

Carper involved a relatively straight-forward DUI case. A Pennsylvania State Police Trooper pulled Carper over in October 2014 for an expired inspection sticker. During the ensuing stop, the Trooper began to suspect Carper of driving under the influence of a controlled substance. The Trooper arrested Carper, transported him to the hospital, and informed him that if he did not consent to a blood draw, he would face increased criminal penalties. Carper agreed to the blood draw, and the blood draw showed the presence of a controlled substance.

Motion to Suppress

Carper moved to suppress the evidence under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Notably, Carper did not move to suppress the blood results under the Pennsylvania Constitution. The trial court held a suppression hearing, and the Commonwealth introduced evidence in an attempt to show that it complied with both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Following the hearing, the United States Supreme Court decided Birchfield v. North Dakota, and then Carper filed a post-suppression hearing brief in which he also argued that the blood results should be suppressed under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Likewise, the Commonwealth filed a brief in which it argued that the Pennsylvania Constitution did not bar the introduction of the blood results into evidence. 

Birchfield v. North Dakota made it illegal for states to impose criminal penalties on DUI suspects who refuse a warrantless blood draw. Thus, the trial court granted the Motion to suppress, agreeing with the defense that the police illegally coerced the defendant into consenting to the blood draw by informing the defendant that he would face more severe criminal penalties if he refused chemical testing. 

The Good Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule

The Commonwealth appealed. In its appeal, the Commonwealth argued for the application of the good faith exception to the Exclusionary Rule. In the federal system, prosecutors may still use unlawfully seized evidence if police acted in good faith when they obtained the evidence. For example, courts have found that officers acted in good faith where they arrested a defendant on what they believed to be a valid warrant despite the fact that the warrant had actually been lifted. Likewise, federal courts have held that police act in good faith when they rely on existing case law when conducting a search even if later case law subsequently changes the legality of the search. Thus, the Commonwealth asked the Superior Court to find that the good faith exception applies in Birchfield cases because police relied on well-established case law. The Commonwealth also argued that the defendant failed to properly preserve his state law challenge to the blood draw because defense counsel moved to suppress the evidence only under the United States Constitution prior to the hearing and never mentioned the state law claim until the defense filed its post-hearing brief.     

The Superior Court rejected both of the Commonwealth’s arguments. First, the Court recognized that Pennsylvania appellate courts have repeatedly found that there is no good faith exception to the exclusionary rule in Pennsylvania. Thus, while the good faith exception may apply in federal court, it does not apply in Pennsylvania state courts. The only issue is whether officers violated the law; it does not save the Commonwealth’s case that the officers relied on the law at the time. Second, the Court rejected the Commonwealth’s argument that Carper waived the state law claims by failing to mention them in the initial motion. This would have led to the motion being denied because under the federal law claims, the good faith exception would have applied. Nonetheless, the Court rejected this argument as well, finding that the Commonwealth had not been prejudiced because the Commonwealth extensively briefed the state law issues and presented testimony relating to the issue of coercion at the suppression hearing. Further, the defense preserved the issue by filing the post-hearing brief and allowing the trial court to rule on it. Therefore, the Court rejected both of the Commonwealth’s appellate issues.  

Following Carper, it is clear that the good faith exception does not apply in Birchfield DUI cases. States may not penalize DUI suspects for refusing to submit to blood testing without a search warrant. Although prosecutors continuously ask the appellate courts to adopt a good faith exception in Pennsylvania, the courts have fortunately refused to do so thus far.  

Award-Winning Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are facing DUI charges or fighting any other criminal case, we can help. Our award-winning criminal defense attorneys have successfully represented thousands of clients in all types of criminal cases. Don't just assume you have to plead guilty and are going to lose your license. Call 267-225-2545 for a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session with one of our Philadelphia DUI Defense Attorneys and Criminal Lawyers.

PA DUI Update - Much of Pennsylvania DUI Law Found Unconstitutional By Superior Court

Changes in Pennsylvania DUI Law

Back in August, I wrote about a potential dramatic change in Driving Under the Influence law brought about by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota. In Birchfield, the United States 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. As many criminal defense lawyers predicted at the time, this holding would lead to challenges to Pennsylvania’s DUI statute.

Constitutional Problems with PA's DUI Statute

In the first Pennsylvania appellate decision since Birchfield, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that the portion of the statute providing increased penalties for refusal is unconstitutional and that the standard police O’Connell warnings which are given to every motorist prior to a blood draw are unconstitutionally coercive. Therefore, under Commonwealth v. Evans, any blood results obtained after a motorist has been read the O’Connell warnings must be suppressed, and a defendant may not face increased criminal penalties for refusing a blood test.

The first problem with the DUI statute arises from the fact that it provides enhanced criminal penalties for a motorist who refuses the blood draw and is later found guilty of DUI. A second problem stems from the fact that Pennsylvania law requires police officers to provide motorists with O’Connell warnings prior to requesting a blood draw. The O’Connell warnings include a warning that failure to consent to the blood test will result in enhanced criminal penalties should the motorist subsequently be charged with and convicted of Driving Under the Influence. Now that a state may not impose additional penalties for refusal, the O’Connell warnings are not accurate.

In Evans, the defendant was arrested for DUI (sometimes referred to as "DWI") and asked by the arresting officer to submit to a blood test. When the officer asked him to submit to the test, the officer read the standard warnings. Those warnings included the statement that a refusal would lead to increased criminal penalties should the defendant subsequently be convicted of DUI. After hearing the warnings, the defendant agreed to the blood test, and the results ultimately put him in the highest tier for a DUI. This triggered a one year mandatory minimum jail sentence, and the defendant was sentenced to 1-6 years of incarceration in a state prison. 

Following the Birchfield decision, Evans’ attorney moved to suppress the blood results and argued that although Evans consented to the blood draw, the police had obtained his consent through illegal coercion by reading him the now-inaccurate O'Connell warnings. The trial court disagreed and denied the motion to suppress, but the Superior Court has now reversed the decision of the trial court. The Superior Court recognized that subject to certain exceptions, police must obtain a warrant prior to conducting a search, and drawing blood from a DUI suspect counts as a search. One of the exceptions to the warrant requirement is where the defendant voluntarily consents. Therefore, the case turned on whether or not the refusal statute could survive the Birchfield decision and if not, whether the O’Connell warnings are unconstitutionally coercive due to their inaccuracy.

States May Not Impose Criminal Penalties For Refusing A Blood Test Unless Police Have A Warrant

First, the court noted that under Birchfield, Pennsylvania’s implied consent system in which the refusal to submit to testing may result in increased criminal penalties is unconstitutional. Although refusal itself is not a crime because the defendant must be convicted of DUI in order for the increased penalties to apply, the court noted that the statute does clearly impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to testing. The statute makes a conviction following the refusal of testing a Tier III offense instead of a Tier I offense. A Tier III offense always carries a mandatory minimum sentence of incarceration and a driver’s license suspension, whereas a first Tier I offense requires only six months of probation and no driver’s license suspension. Therefore, the court found that the statute is unconstitutional due to Birchfield's holding that a state may not criminalize the refusal to submit to testing.

Second, once the court recognized that the statute is now unconstitutional, it became clear that the police officer’s advisory to the defendant was partially inaccurate. The officer told him that he would face increased criminal penalties for a refusal, as officers having been doing throughout Pennsylvania for years, but that increased penalty would actually be unconstitutional under Birchfield. Accordingly, the court held that the warnings were unconstitutionally coercive and that the trial court should have suppressed the results of the blood test.

New Defenses to DUI Charges

The holding is critically important for many defendants who have been arrested for DUI and either refused the blood test or had their blood drawn without a warrant. It is also something to consider when deciding whether to submit to a blood test. Although the failure to submit to a blood test will still result in an automatic driver's license suspension and inferences which may be used against the defendant at trial, it cannot result in increased criminal penalties. 

We Can Help With DUI Charges In Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Philadelphia DUI Lawyers

Philadelphia DUI Lawyers

If you have been arrested for DUI or are even just curious about what to do when the police ask for a blood test, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. There are often defenses available which only an experienced criminal lawyer and DUI attorney will recognize. Although police departments have begun to change the warnings that they will be reading going forward, many defendants have already been read incorrect and unconstitutional warnings. If you have been charged with Driving Under the Influence and the police conducted a blood draw or asked you to submit to a blood draw and you refused, 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.