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Enhanced DUI Sentence Unconstitutional, Pa. Supreme Court Rules

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An enhanced sentence handed down to an allegedly intoxicated driver who was arrested after refusing blood and breath testing was unconstitutional, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled.

The state's justices ruled unanimously to reverse a superior court decision upholding the sentence against defendant Samuel Monarch, which they said violated the Fourth Amendment, and remanded the case for resentencing.

Monarch allegedly left his mother's house in a state of intoxication and drove away with his 8-year-old daughter. Monarch's mother called the police, who caught up with him after he arrived home, according to Justice Kevin Dougherty's opinion.

Officers confronted Monarch and asked him to submit to either a blood or breath intoxication test, both of which he refused. He was placed under arrest and at the police station was asked to submit to testing, which he refused again.

Monarch was charged with child endangerment and DUI. At the conclusion of his trial, the jury found that his refusal to submit to testing and his prior DUI convictions merited a more severe punishment, and he was subject to a mandatory minimum of one year in prison and was sentenced to one to five years in prison with a concurrent term of five years' probation.

One of the issues Monarch raised on appeal was that the enhanced penalty he received based upon his refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test was unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Birchfield v. North Dakota. In that decision, the high court held that warrantless breath tests are permitted, but warrantless blood tests are not.

However, the superior court held that Monarch's enhanced sentence was not unconstitutional, since he refused breath testing.

Dougherty said that Monarch could not be subject to enhanced sentencing in such a broad manner.

"Indeed, the Birchfield court contemplated that the decision would apply not only to separate criminal offenses but also to enhanced sentencing or other criminal penalties that might arise from refusal. In its discussion of implied consent, the court stated 'it is another matter, however, for a state not only to insist upon an intrusive blood test, but also to impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to such a test,'” Dougherty said.

"Under Birchfield, it is clear the enhanced mandatory minimum sentences authorized by the statute are unconstitutional when based on a refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test," Dougherty continued. "Accordingly, appellant’s mandatory minimum sentence based on his refusal to submit to warrantless blood testing must be vacated."

Monarch's attorney, Louis Emmi, did not respond to a request for comment.

Venango County Assistant District Attorney Justin Fleeger said only the blood testing refusal was submitted to the jury, which was the standard at the time. Of the court's ruling, he said, "there was an appropriate result based upon the fact that the breath portion of it was not submitted to the jury. ... We agree with the result at this time."

Copies of the 10-page opinion in Commonwealth v. Monarch, PICS No. 19-0119, are available at http://at.law.com/PICS.)