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Court: Police do not have to disclose DUI info

Police are not required to inform suspects under arrest for DUI about a 2016 U.S. Supreme decision that banned criminal penalties for refusal to submit to blood tests, according to a Penn­syl­vania Superior Court decision issued Monday.

The case involved a Hunting­don County resident, Matthew Edward Thomas, 36, of Three Springs, who was charged last year after an accident in Huntingdon Borough with first offense, DUI, careless driving and speeding.

His blood-alcohol content was at or above 0.16 percent, according to state court records.

Thomas, through his attorney, Brian Manchester of Centre County, challenged the blood-alcohol test because the arresting officer failed to advise him of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Birchfield v. North Dakota, that ruled state governments may not criminalize a refusal to submit to chemical analysis, although forms read to suspects by police officers do cite possible civil penalties for refusing the test.

When the Thomas case reached the pretrial hearing stage, Hunting­don County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz ordered suppression of the blood-alcohol test results because, “Thomas could not knowingly and consciously consent to the test without being explicitly informed that he could refuse the test ‘without an criminal consequences.'”

Kurtz’s order was issued on Oct. 25, 2017.

It was appealed to the Superior Court by Assistant District Attorney Julia Wilt, who, according to the Superior Court panel, argued that the inability to use the blood-alcohol results would “substantially handicap” the prosecution.

Superior Court Judge Jack A. Panella, who wrote the opinion issued Monday, cited a recent opinion noting that the Supreme Court does “not impose upon police an affirmative duty to provide (the defendant) with an update on criminal procedure prior to requesting a blood draw.”

He was pointing out that motorists are expected to know the law and any changes that have occurred.

The trial court, the opinion explained, “relied only on Thomas’ ignorance of the Birchfield in suppressing the blood test results.”

He also found that the arresting officer, Hunting­don Patrolman Shaun McCready, who investigated the accident in which Thomas was involved, read the required PennDOT form to Thomas.

The form, Panella pointed out, did not include a warning that the suspect “could suffer enhanced criminal penalties if he refused the blood test.”

He also pointed out there was “no suggestion of coercion” to force Thomas to take the blood test.

“Under these circumstances, the court (Kurtz) erred in suppressing the result,” according to the opinion.

The decision means the assistant district attorney can resume her prosecution of the case.

The Birchfield opinion included several cases in which individuals were charged criminally with refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine if they were driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The U.S. Supreme Court by a 7-1 vote, and, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., found that the law violated the Fourth Amendment bar against unreasonable search and seizure.

Defense Attorney Man­chester could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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