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DUI Enforcement in Pennsylvania: Insights from a Recent Court Decision

In our ongoing effort to ensure public safety and uphold the law, we as law enforcement officers often face complex scenarios that test our adherence to protocol. The recent decision in Joshua Bergenstock v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing offers a significant learning opportunity, particularly regarding our dealings with commercial driving license (CDL) holders during DUI stops.


Case Background

Joshua Bergenstock was arrested on two consecutive nights for DUI. During these incidents, he was driving a personal vehicle, not a commercial one, but he held a CDL. Bergenstock refused to undergo chemical testing on both occasions. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) responded by suspending his operating privilege for 18 months due to the refusals and his prior DUI conviction. They also sought a lifetime disqualification of his commercial driving privileges.


The Court's Analysis and Decision

The Commonwealth Court upheld the 18-month suspension. It found the officer had reasonable grounds to believe that Bergenstock was operating his vehicle under the influence, which justified the suspension under current laws.

However, the court reversed the lifetime disqualification of Bergenstock’s commercial driving privileges. The reversal was based on procedural errors related to how the warnings were communicated to Bergenstock. Specifically, the officer did not inform Bergenstock of the severe implications his refusal to submit to a blood test would have on his commercial driving privileges. This omission occurred despite the requirements that all CDL holders be fully informed of the consequences, irrespective of the type of vehicle being driven at the time of the arrest.


PennDOT’s Argument

PennDOT argued that the officer was only required to read the warnings applicable to the type of vehicle involved during the arrest—in this case, a personal vehicle. They contended that if Bergenstock had been driving a commercial vehicle, or if he had been a non-CDL holder driving a commercial vehicle, the full warnings on both sides of the form would have been necessary.


Implications for Law Enforcement Practices

CDL license holders must be provided with the warnings from both sides of the DL-26 form, regardless of whether they are operating a personal or commercial vehicle, for the lifetime CDL disqualification to be applicable in cases of repeat refusals.


Future Prospects

This ruling should ideally lead to a reconsideration of the forms and procedures used during DUI stops. A simplified, unified form would help prevent such procedural errors and ensure that all individuals are equally informed about the consequences of their actions, enhancing both the clarity and fairness of law enforcement processes.


Conclusion

As we reflect on this case and its implications, it's clear that there is a need for ongoing training and possibly legislative reform to simplify and clarify the procedures we follow. Such changes will not only aid in our compliance with the law but also enhance our effectiveness in serving and protecting our communities.


Stay alert, stay knowledgeable, and above all, stay safe.

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