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BIRCHFIELD CASE DECLARING WARRANTLESS BLOOD TESTS FOR DUI TO BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL DOES NOT APPLY TO CIVIL LICENSE SUSPENSION CASES

The PA Commonwealth Court has decided the case of Renfroe v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, No. 1907 C.D. 2016 (February 15, 2018), holding that Birchfield does not extend to civil license suspension cases.

Renfroe was arrested for DUI. He was read and signed his Implied Consent warnings (DL-26 form), confirming that he understood the consequences. The arresting officer testified that Renfroe refused to take the blood test without giving a reason why he could not do so. The officer further testified that Renfroe did not inform him that he has a medical condition that prevented him from taking the blood test. Renfroe testified that after being read the DL-26 form, he told the officer that he could not take a blood test because he “[had] a phobia for needles.”

Renfroe contended that because the warnings he was given contained language about enhanced criminal penalties, which was declared unconstitutional under Birchfield and the PA Superior Court decision in Evans, he cannot be punished for refusing to take the blood test, either civilly or criminally

The Commonwealth Court disagreed with Renfroe’s contention that Birchfield must be extended to civil license suspension cases. It reasoned that the Birchfield court explicitly limited its holding to implied consent laws imposing criminal penalties. And, in so doing, the Supreme Court observed that the petitioners in Birchfield did not question the constitutionality of implied consent laws that impose only civil penalties, and stated that nothing in its opinion “should be read to cast doubt on them.”

Additionally, Renfroe argued that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that the officer’s testimony was more credible than his. The Commonwealth Court noted that Renfroe was arrested for DUI; was asked to submit to a blood test; and was read the warnings on the Form DL-26, That form included a warning that Renfroe’s refusal would result in the suspension of his driver’s license. The officer then testified that Renfroe refused to take the blood test without explaining the reason for his refusal. The trial court credited the officer’s testimony and rejected as not credible Renfroe’s conflicting testimony that he told Cargill he had a “phobia for needles.”

Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court discerned no error in the trial court’s denial of Renfroe’s statutory license suspension appeal and affirmed the trial court’s order.

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Commonwealth/out/1907CD16_2-15-18.pdf?cb=1

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