Birchfield, Rufusals, and PennDot’s DL – 26B Form

In many pending 2017 Pennsylvania DUI and civil license refusal cases stemming for arrests between April 2016 and July 2017 police officers administered incorrect chemical test warnings to Pennsylvania motorists.  Use of the DL 26B form, I think, is legally insufficient pursuant to the then effective 75 Pa.C.S. § 1547(b)(2).  Counsel should file suppression motions.  A corollary issue is whether these drivers are capable as a matter of law of refusing the blood test where the police officer testifies he read the illegal PennDOT DL-26B form.

In May/June 2016 PennDOT created the new DL 26B form in response to Birchfield.  Birchfield held that criminally coercing a blood draw — compelling a defendant to testify/provide blood evidence against themselves or face jail time — is unconstitutional.  After Birchfield, enhanced penalties and threats of jail to secure evidence in DUI cases require suppression of blood evidence.  In response PennDOT changed its DUI informed consent form, the DL 26B document that local and state police read to DUI suspects when the want the suspect to give blood.  The General Assembly did not give PennDOT authority to do this.  This is the topic of this blog.

The suppression argument is as follows:  The arresting officer’s warnings to the DUI suspect fail to comply with Section 1547(b)(2) in that the driver was not advised that refusing the chemical test would result in enhanced criminal penalties (i.e. the penalties provided in Section 3804(c)) as § 1547(b) (pre-July 2017) requires.  While there is no statutory or other requirement that any DL-26 Form contain appropriate warnings, or that the form be read verbatim, it is nonetheless the duty of the police officer to inform the petitioner of the statutorily required warnings.  (See Section 1547(b)(2)).  In other words, if the police officer recites the appropriate warnings from memory without the use of any form at all that is perfectly acceptable under the law.  If an officer confirms the only warnings provided were those contained on the DL-26B Form, those warnings are not consistent with the statutory law prior to July 2017.

This date is important because on July 20, 2017, the governor approved Act 30 of 2017 which provides for an amendment to Section 1547(b)(2), removing language requiring a police officer to provide the warnings relating to enhanced criminal penalties for refusal. While this amendment was not effective on the date of petitioner’s incident, the fact that the legislature  amended  it is indicative  of its acknowledgement that such an amendment was necessary to effectuate the change required of the warnings pursuant to Birchfield.

Importantly, the §1547 pre-July 2017 statute includes the word shall.   The legislature’s use of the term “shall” establishes that police officers must comply with the §1547 language mandate. In Comm v. Weaver, the 2006 Pennsylvania Supreme Court interprets §1547(b)(2) verbiage (the same was in effect on prior to July 2017) reaching the same conclusion.  Following the September 2003 amendments to the Implied Consent Law, PennDOT implemented the language of§ 1547(b)(2)(ii) into a new DL-26 form. This led to a significant amount of litigation over whether the warnings printed on the December 2003 version of the Department of Transportation’s DL-26 form were sufficient to satisfy the requirements of§ 1547(b)(2). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Weaver, held that the warnings printed on that version of the DL-26 form were legally sufficient to satisfy those requirements.  In reaching its decision, the Weaver Court stated:

The legislature’s use of the term “shall” clearly establishes that police officers must comply with  this mandate.   Subparagraph (ii) commands police officers to inform an arrestee that “(ii) upon conviction, plea or adjudication of delinquency for violating section 3802(a), the person will be subject to penalties provided in section 3804(c) (relating to penalties).” The words of this statute are clear and free from all ambiguity; thus, we will glean the legislative intent from those words. The plain language requires only that the officer inform the arrestee that if he is convicted of DUI, refusal will result in additional penalties.

Accordingly, under the plain language of the statute, the warnings set forth in the 2017 version of § 1547(b)(2) are mandatory and must be strictly complied with in order to suspend a motorist’s operating privilege pursuant to the Vehicle Code. Previously, in very certain terms, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has held that, in requesting a chemical test, the police officer must inform the arrestee of the consequences of refusal and notify the arrestee that there is no right to consult with an attorney before making a decision. See O’Connell, 555 A.2d at 877-78.12 “An arrestee is entitled to this information so that his choice to take a [chemical] test can be knowing and conscious.” Id. at 878. The choice belongs to the arrestee, not the police officer.

In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation v Kennedy, 66 A.3d 818 (Pa. Comw. 2013), the Court says that:

“the warning delivered to [licensee] fully complies with the statutory requirements. The statute simply does not require any specific explanation as to the length of the civil suspension and does not require explanation of criminal penalties set forth in §3804(c). The statute requires only that the police provide notice that refusal will result in license suspension and, that if the licensee is driving under the influence, refusal will result in additional penalties. [The licensee] receives this information. Kennedy requires that the officer deliver only the statutory authorized 1547(b) authorized penalties of a refusal. While there is no specific language that the Courts have determined these police officers must read licensees, once the officer begins notifying potential motorists of license refusal consequences, only those consequences that are set forth in the statute must be read.”

Our Pennsylvania Supreme Court has confirmed police officers’ obligation to advise motorists of the exact warning contained in §1547(b)(2). In this 15 month period, police officers utilizing the DL-26B form did not comply with statutory law requiring the correct consequences be advised to these motorists. PennDOT’s utilization of the revised DL-26B was not sanctioned by the General Assembly and not legally effective on the date and time of these arrest render the information provided to them insufficient as a matter of law.

§1547 prior to July 2017 required reading all language contained therein, even those provisions deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. This tension between the current statutory laws and judicial decisions create a situation fraught with potential that motorists will not receive sufficient information to make a voluntary, informed decision regarding consent to the requested chemical testing.

The complex criminal versus civil application of Birchfield, Weaver, Kennedy, supra, is born out in Boseman v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 157 A.3d 10 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017), and Gray v. Commonwealth , Dep’t of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, No. 1759 C.D. 2016, 2017 WL 2536439, at *7–8 (Pa. Commw. Ct. June 9, 2017), reargument denied (Aug. 7, 2017).  These cases maintain  arresting officer’s statutory obligation to inform a motorist of the General Assembly’s defined § 1547(b)’s ramifications of a refusal – not PennDOT’s version.

In Boseman  and Gray, supra, Commonwealth Court states Birchfield does not apply to PennDOT license suspension refusal cases. As such, any court finding that Birchfield effectively compelled PennDOT to unilaterally re-write the 1547(b) mandatory warning, to a non-statutorily authorized version, is not supported by the Commonwealth Court’s application of Birchfield in the §1547(b) refusal context. Boseman, Gray, Weaver, Kennedy, supra.

In Gray and Boseman, supra, Judge McCullough dissents.  Judge McCullough convincingly points out the incongruity of the constitutional right of privacy and self-incrimination Birchfield establishes (adopted by Commonwealth v. Evans, 153 A.3d 323 (Pa. Super. 2016)) and Commonwealth Court’s dismissing such argument in the civil license suspension context when ONLY a state based property right (a motor vehicle operator’s license) is at issue.

In Price v. Commonwealth, Dep’t of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing,, No. 1873 C.D. 2016, 2017 WL 4321625, at *6 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sept. 29, 2017), Judge McCullough concurs in the result (she is constrained to follow Boseman, supra) but reiterates her position set forth in Gray and Boseman.  However, Judge Cosgroves dissents:

While Birchfield is not directly applicable here, it does stand for a principle which the former DL–26 does not reflect. And while Birchfield allows implementation of civil penalties for refusal to submit to a blood test in cases such as this, it does not give states permission to misinform a licensee as to the consequences of a refusal.

As such, Courts may, on alternative grounds, conclude Birchfield applies in the civil, administrative license suspension realm as a driver’s licenses in this day and age constitutes a property right to which criminal threat of incarceration to surrender (the proper § 1547(b) language to be read but was not) violates her constitutional rights, voiding any refusal. This conclusion is sought even though the DL-26 Form with the enhanced penalties was not read to these motorists.  It was still required to be read, but was not.

Call me to discuss your case.

 

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