Commonwealth Cannot Solely Rely on the Implied Consent Statute to Justify Blood Testing

In Commonwealth v. Jones-Williams, our Superior Court ruled that Section 3755 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, which allowed the warrantless blood draw from a driver receiving emergency care following an accident, was unconstitutional. The Court ruled that when a driver is incapable of consenting to a blood test and requires emergency medical treatment and there is probable cause to believe that driver was under the influence while operating a vehicle, the investigating officer must obtain a warrant, or be able to justify a blood draw under a valid exception to the warrant requirement, before obtaining a blood sample.

In this case, the suspected driver was taken to a hospital due to the severity of his injuries. The investigating officer went to hospital and requested a blood sample from medical personnel in order to determine if the driver was legally under the influence at the time of the accident. The Court concluded that Section 1547(a) of the Vehicle Code did not independently support implied consent to a blood test by a driver when that driver is unconscious or otherwise incapable of voluntarily agreeing to or refusing the test. Further, in these circumstances, the Commonwealth could not rely on exigent circumstances to justify obtaining a blood sample. The hospital had only drawn blood from the driver as part of their treatment. By doing so, they removed any exigency that would justify another draw of blood.

In Vasquez-Santiago v. PENNDOT, the Court reached a similar conclusion. In this case, the suspension of driving privileges due to a failure to submit to chemical testing was rescinded when the Commonwealth was unable to establish that a licensee understood warnings given him by the arresting officer due to language difficulties. Unless the Commonwealth is able to establish that a driver understood his or her rights before making a decision on whether or not to refuse testing, the Court will not find that a driver made a knowing or conscious decision to submit or refuse testing.

Both of these cases hold that the Commonwealth cannot solely rely on the implied consent statute to justify blood testing in order to establish impairment for purposes of a DUI prosecution. The Commonwealth must establish a knowing and conscious decision on the part of the driver to submit to testing before evidence of the blood test can be used against the driver in any prosecution.

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