Driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol can result in serious criminal penalties and significant collateral consequences. If you are pulled over for a DUI, the law enforcement officer will likely attempt to gather evidence that you are intoxicated. According to the new legal precedent set by the United States Supreme Court, the police may need a warrant to obtain some of that evidence if it is to be used in a criminal case against you.
If you have been arrested for or charged with a DUI, you need an experienced Pittsburgh DUI attorney on your side. The complex criminal justice process can be confusing, especially if you’re unsure of your rights. We will make sure your rights are protected and defend you at every step of the process.
Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys today at (412) 281-2146 to find out how we can help you.
Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Statute and Birchfield v. North Dakota
Under Pennsylvania law, a suspected offender is required to take a blood, urine, or breathalyzer test if arrested for DUI. This “implied consent” means that simply by driving in Pennsylvania, you have automatically given consent for chemical testing. Refusal to take a test is considered a separate offense and will result in a one-year suspension of your driver’s license. A second refusal, or refusal with a prior conviction of DUI, may mean a suspension that lasts for up to 18 months. Prior to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, a suspected DUI offender taken to the hospital for a blood test would be notified that refusal would result in heightened criminal penalties.
With a July 2016 decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the constitution allows police officers to conduct breathalyzer tests without warrants for people arrested under suspicion of DUI. The court stated that a breathalyzer test is considered a minor physical intrusion and does not compromise serious privacy interests. However, blood tests are much more invasive and implicate more serious privacy concerns. A blood draw provides a sample that can used to gather information other than for determining blood alcohol content (BAC). Therefore, police officers cannot draw blood without a warrant. Additionally, police officers no longer notify individuals that refusal would result in harsher criminal penalties.
Failure to get a Warrant
Pennsylvania’s DUI laws rely heavily on BAC tests to determine the level of penalties for suspected drunk drivers. The state implements a tiered approach that is tied to the BAC found in a suspected offender or to an offender’s refusal to take breath or chemical testing. Such refusal is subject to the same highest tier of penalties that also applies to those with the highest BAC levels. First-time offenders would be charged with first-degree misdemeanors, with penalties that include 18 months of driver’s license suspension, up to 5 years in prison, and up to $10,000 in fines.
However, with the Birchfield decision, offenders cannot be charged with the highest tier of DUI charges for simply refusing a chemical blood test. Additionally, those who were subjected to a blood test without a warrant cannot be charged with the highest tier if the police are relying only on the results of that test for the charge.
The decision in Birchfield only applies to criminal penalties when a blood test is refused or obtained without a warrant. Any criminal penalties based on breathalyzer tests or administrative penalties for refusal of chemical tests are not impacted.
Warrantless Car Searches
Another issue involving warrants during a DUI stop involves vehicle searches. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that police officers do not need warrants to search private vehicles during a DUI stop. That means that if a police officer has probable cause to conduct a DUI stop, then they can proceed with a vehicle search without a warrant. The probable cause requirement is still in place, and they can’t search every vehicle stopped.
An Experienced Pittsburgh DUI Lawyer Can Help
You should talk to an experienced Pittsburgh DUI lawyer right away if you’ve been charged with a DUI. You will need a skilled attorney right away to help protect your rights against possible police overreaching. DUI and criminal defense law is constantly evolving, and you need a DUI lawyer who is on the cutting edge of DUI defense.
Call our Pittsburgh DUI lawyers at (412) 281-2146 for a free initial consultation today so we can help you with an effective strategy for getting a favorable result in your case.