In mid-February, 2012, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania handed down a decision that makes DUI charges that much more difficult to fight. In order to fully understand the impact of this decision on Criminal Defense, you need to understand some background about defending criminal charges.
First, let’s look at your constitutional rights. The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides you with the right to confront your accuser. This means that if someone is instrumental in charging you with a crime, you have a right to force that person to come to court and testify under oath. This also means that you have an opportunity to cross examine this person in an effort to defend your rights. Since the Sixth Amendment was ratified, there have been tons of court opinions issued explaining who you have a right to “confront.” As you can imagine, there can be a ton of people involved in charging you with a crime, but, the court will not require the District Attorney’s office to bring all of those people to trial.
Next, let’s look at how your Sixth Amendment Rights apply to your DUI charges. There are two ways the police can check your Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC: a breathalyzer or a blood sample. When your BAC is checked by blood sample, there is an independent lab technician who prepares the BAC testing and report. If your BAC comes back over the legal limit, that technician is instrumental is having you charged with a DUI. So, if you take your DUI to a trial, you should have a right to force the District Attorney to bring that lab technician to court to “confront” him or her. Why would you want to do this? To make sure the lab technician followed the proper procedure in testing your blood and recording the results. If the District Attorney fails to produce the right lab technician, you should have a violation of your Sixth Amendment. Before this recent Superior Court decision, this gave you a fighting chance to beat your DUI charges.
However, in the case of Comm. v. Yohe, 2012 PA Super 34 (Pa. Super. 2012), the Superior Court made this Sixth Amendment Defense almost impossible. According to the court, the District Attorney may now bring a lab technician to court who did not actually observe, prepare, or conduct the testing. The District Attorney may use this person to certify the BAC test results. Even if the lab technician did not give you the test, you have no Sixth Amendment Defense.
This decision seems wrong to me, but it does not have a huge impact on your case. Yes, it does make defending your case a little more difficult. However, this case actually may present a new defense tactic. In other words, the lab technician who did not observe, prepare, or conduct the testing cannot testify that the proper procedures were followed. So, how can that person certify the test beyond a reasonable doubt?
As always, it will take a while to test the defenses presented by this new case. For more information on defending your DUI charges in Pennsylvania, or if you need an experienced DUI attorney to defend your rights, give me a call at 412-209-0657. If I am in court defending other people at the time, leave a message and I will call you back as soon as I return to my office. Or, you can send me an email inquiry by filing out my Quick Inquiry Form at the right of your screen.