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Pennsylvania DUI Case Stresses "Actual Control"

A recent Pennsylvania DUI case has demonstrated the role that judges can play in drunk driving matters. In this particular case, the judge found the defendant guilty of a lesser charge after the jury submitted a not guilty verdict for a more serious offense.

Last July, law enforcement spotted a car double parked with hazard lights flashing. The defendant emerged from the driver's seat, but the officer who made the traffic stop could not say that the defendant had been driving the vehicle. The defendant had testified that she was simply gathering items from the car, and not driving. Others also testified that the accused did not operate the vehicle.

Blood-alcohol tests showed that the defendant had a BAC of .18, more than twice the legal limit in Pennsylvania. After a trial was requested and subsequently delayed, the judge ordered the defendant's license surrendered while the matter was pending.

After testimony was complete, the jury returned a not guilty verdict on a second-offense drunk driving charge. However, the judge found the defendant guilty of DUI, a lesser misdemeanor charge. The judge stated that the testimony of law enforcement was more credible than the testimony of the defendant and the other witnesses called at trial. The conviction carries a possibility of six months in prison, as well as a mandatory license suspension of one year.

The story highlights one of the potentially unknown aspects of Pennsylvania DUI laws. Drivers do not actually have to be driving the vehicle to be charged with driving under the influence; they merely have to be in "actual physical control" of the vehicle.

Active physical control is an issue when police are unable to determine who was operating the vehicle. To prove control, prosecutors must demonstrate that the vehicle had been operated recently, and that the intoxicated person was in a position which allowed for some control over the vehicle.

As this case shows, DUI matters can be extremely complicated. Knowing the available options will help those accused make a decision that is best for their situation.

Source: The Morning Call "DUI defendant who lost license acquitted by jury, convicted by judge" Riley Yates, Feb. 7, 2012.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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