IT DOESN’T TAKE AN EXPERT TO SHOW THAT AN OPERATOR’S REFUSAL TO SUBMIT TO A CHEMICAL TEST WAS NOT A KNOWING & CONSCIOUS REFUSAL (if the operator has suffered injuries that were severe, incapacitating & obvious)
In an unreported memorandum opinion from the Hon. Judge Michael H. Wojcik of the Pa. Commonwealth Court on October 16, 2020, the Court has affirmed the decision of the trial court, holding that it is unnecessary for a licensee to present expert medical testimony that his refusal to submit to a chemical test was not knowing and conscious when he has suffered injuries that were severe, incapacitating and obvious.
Police were called to investigate a one-vehicle motorcycle accident where the motorcycle had left the scene. The motorcycle and its operator were located two blocks from the crash scene. The responding officer found the operator lying on the ground and bleeding from the back of the head, an injury that required immediate treatment and transport to the hospital. While treating the operator at the scene, the officer noticed an odor of alcoholic beverage and the operator admitted to having consumed two beers.
After being transported to the hospital, the operator was again interviewed by the officer who ultimately asked the operator to submit to chemical testing of his blood, but the operator refused. PennDOT suspended the operator’s license for having refused the request and the operator appealed the suspension.
At trial of the suspension appeal, medical records admitted by the trial court confirmed that the operator had sustained multiple traumatic injuries including a severe traumatic brain injury; a fracture of the left ankle bone; and two brain hemorrhages, one in the front of his head and one in the back. The operator also spent four days in the hospital trauma unit.
The operator argued that he did not knowingly refuse the officer’s request to submit to chemical testing of his blood due to the head injury that he sustained in the accident prior to the request. The trial court, citing precedential decisions on the issue, concluded that the operator’s injuries were so severe and obviously incapacitating that medical evidence, in addition to the medical records that were already admitted, was not necessary for the operator to sustain his burden of demonstrating that he was unable to make a knowing and conscious refusal to submit to chemical testing of his blood.
PennDOT appealed the trial court’s decision to the Commonwealth Court, resulting in the affirmation of the trial court’s decision as set forth in the memorandum opinion issued by the Judge Hon. Judge Wojcik.