Commonwealth v. Hutchins, 2012 PA Super 44, 2/27/2012 (19 pages)
Mr. Hutchins was driving his vehicle when, suddenly turning in front of another vehicle on a dry and sunny day, it struck his. A state trooper responding to the scene smelled marijuana coming from Mr. Hutchins’ car. While searching for insurance and registration information, found a Camel cigarette pack that contained marijuana. To another trooper Mr. Hutchins demonstrated a flat and calm manner, unusual under the circumstances (which included his daughters being covered with glass and crying after the accident), and he admitted smoking marijuana and being distracted when he drove. The calm demeanor, the admission of marijuana use, and the absence of any other reason for the accident led that trooper to opine at trial that there was no other reason for the accident other than the marijuana. No sobriety tests were performed because Mr. Hutchins’ daughters had to go to the hospital. Mr. Hutchins’ blood, drawn later, showed a level of 43 ng/ml of carboxy acid, a metabolite of marijuana.
The Court first dismissed the contention that the evidence was insufficient to convict Mr. Hutchins of 75 Pa.C.S. §3802(d)(2) because there was no expert testimony to show that the level of marijuana in his blood was the cause of the way he drove during the accident. The Court agreed that standing alone, without expert testimony, the test results did not prove that the marijuana he ingested affected his driving. However, the Commonwealth had more than just the blood test: it had the above described observations of the state troopers at the scene of the accident and Mr. Hutchins’ admissions.
The Court also dismissed Mr. Hutchins’ contention that because the test results were not conducted on whole blood, the absence of expert testimony was fatal to his DUI convictions. Because 75 Pa.C.S. §2802(d)(1) prohibits any amount of marijuana metabolites in the blood, a conversion of non-whole blood to whole blood results was unnecessary. In light of its earlier finding that the evidence was sufficient to convict under §3802(d)(2), the Court did not address this contention with regard to that section.
The Court did though find insufficient the evidence underlying the conviction for recklessly endangering the life of another person, 18 Pa.C.S. §2705. That statute provides that driving under the influence alone is not enough for conviction: there must be tangible indicia of unsafe driving to a degree that creates a substantial risk of injury that is consciously disregarded. All the Commonwealth proved was that Mr. Hutchins was driving under the influence, distracted, and had turned his car into another vehicle. That turn alone, unaccompanied by, say, weaving in and out of traffic and violating other traffic laws, did not amount to such recklessness. Because vacating the REAP sentence disrupted the trial court’s sentencing scheme, the case was remanded for resentencing.
The opinion may be found here.
Photo from U of T News.