As I mentioned in the beginning, my main purpose in creating this blog was to provide State College residents and by extension Pennsylvania citizens with information about DUI laws in Pennsylvania and the ways in which State College residents lack of knowledge relating to DUI laws is exploited by State College police to effectuate DUI arrests. As I have repeatedly pointed out, it is a must that you hire a State College DUI attorney. For legal purposes, I must also remind you that the below information is only offered as my commentary on the law and should not be construed as legal advice to be exclusively relied on by you, the reader, so please always consult a State College DUI attorney in the event you are suspected of or charged with DUI in State College.
In this post, I am going to address a little known change in 2004 to Pennsylvania’s DUI law that has flown under the radar of the general public, but which has had a substantial impact on how State College residents are initially stopped for DUI. In 2004, the Pennsylvania legislature passed section 6308(b) of the Vehicle Code.
Prior to 2004, a State College police officer needed what’s called probable cause of a traffic violation in order to stop someone and subsequently administer a field sobriety test or breathalyzer. The Pennsylvania Legislature, unhappy with the perceived high burden that the probable cause standard posed, mind you it had been the law in Pennsylvania since the advent of modern DUI statutes, stepped in and reduced the burden of proof that a police officer must demonstrate in effectuating the traffic stop. That new burden of proof articulated by the Pennsylvania legislature is reasonable suspicion. For the next four years, Pennsylvania courts struggled with the whether such action by the Pennsylvania Leglistlature was even constitutional, until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took up the issue of whether the legislature had the right to alter Pennsylvania jurisprudence in the Commonwealth v. Chase, 599 Pa. 80 (2008). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the Legislatures’ enactment of 6308(b) was constitutional and that new standard for a vehicle stop would be reasonable suspicion. You may be asking yourself why is this important to me, well the simple answer is knowledge, knowledge about what your Legislature is doing behind the scenes, knowledge that our elected officials are stepping in and rewriting laws Pennsylvania courts have developed over decades. One of things that I continually hear from State College residents is that if I do not get a traffic ticket, the police could not stop me and thus I was wrongly arrested for DUI. Well as the Legislature has made clear, this simply not the case, the police simply need reasonable suspicion that you committed a traffic violation.
Similarly, I find this change in the law fascinating and why it should be important to you as a citizen of Pennsylvania and State College is the complete lack of publicity this alteration in the law has generated by the Pennsylvania media. When the Pennsylvania Legislature rewrote section 6308(b), the publicity centered on the abolishment of the “relation back defense,” which in essence stated that if a State College driver’s BAC was .08 or above within two hours of operating a vehicle, they were presumed legally drunk at the time they were driving, regardless of whether they were in the alcohol absorptive stage or not. While the abolishment of the “relation back defense” is a subject for another time, this change in effect subjects more drivers who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol to invasive stops and that is reason enough for you to care.