A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

Click to download Opinion C v. Griffith

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has decided the case of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Michelle Necole GRIFFITH, Appellee, 2011 WL 5176800, No. 56 MAP 2010 (Nov. 2, 2011), an appeal from a ruling of the Superior Court, Commonwealth v. Griffith, 985 A.2d 230 (Pa.Super.2009), No. 1315 MDA 2008, dated July 2, 2009, which reversed a Judgment of Sentence of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, at No. CP–06–CR–0003318–2006 dated June 25, 2008. This case was before Justices CASTILLE, SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, and ORIE MELVIN. Justice McCaffery wrote the Opinion for the full court.

The issue presented in this case was whether expert testimony is required to convict a defendant of driving under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs, 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(d)(2), when the drugs in question are prescription medications. The Court declined to read into subsection 3802(d)(2) a mandatory requirement for expert testimony to establish that the defendant’s inability to drive safely was caused by ingestion of a drug, even if it is a prescription drug, or drug combination. Under the general impairment provision set forth in subsection 3802(a)(1), a blood or breath test to determine alcohol level is not required; rather, a different standard is used, i.e., imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that one is rendered incapable of safely driving.

In this case, the Appellee drove her vehicle when she was incapable of safely driving; this element was not before the court. The only question was whether the evidence was sufficient to establish that Appellee’s inability to drive safely was the result of the influence of a drug or combination of drugs. At trial, an experienced police officer testified that he closely observed Appellee’s behavior, demeanor, unsteadiness, and inability to perform field sobriety tests, all of which led him to request laboratory tests for the detection of controlled substances in Appellee’s blood. Appellee admitted taking one prescription medication in the morning of the day of her arrest. Two other Schedule IV controlled substances, to wit, Valium and a related metabolite, were detected in her blood. Therefore, the Commonwealth’s evidence was sufficient to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Appellee violated subsection 3802(d)(2), and the ruling of the Superior Court was reversed.

Attorney Jill M. Scheidt of Rabenold Koestel Scheidt of Wyomissing represented the Appellant. John B. Mancke, Esq. appeared for the PA Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amicus Curiae.

The Free Student Research Center is now OPEN. It will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9AM to 3PM. The Free Student Research Center is available for use by attorneys who are current members of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and who are court-appointed to the case for which they seek research (either state or CJA!).

The Free Student Research Center is located in the Jack Myers Memorial Lounge on the Third Floor of the CJC. You may make a research request in person or via the Criminal Justice Section website at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch

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