Commonwealth v. Edwards, 573 EDA 2022

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtPELLEGRINI, J.
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA v. DARRIN NED EDWARDS Appellant
Docket Number573 EDA 2022,J-S30042-22
Decision Date16 September 2022

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.

DARRIN NED EDWARDS Appellant

No. 573 EDA 2022

No. J-S30042-22

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 16, 2022


NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION - SEE SUPERIOR COURT I.O.P. 65.37

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered November 30, 2021 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-46-CR-0001238-2020

BEFORE: STABILE, J., McCAFFERY, J., and PELLEGRINI, J. [*]

MEMORANDUM

PELLEGRINI, J.

Darrin Ned Edwards (Edwards) appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County (trial court) following his bench conviction of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or a Controlled Substance (DUI─combined influence of alcohol and a drug or combination of drugs), and the summary offense of Following Too Closely.[1]Edwards challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his DUI conviction by disputing the element of his drug impairment. We affirm.

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I.

A.

This case arises from an October 23, 2019 two-vehicle accident involving Edwards. At 11:45 p.m., Pennsylvania State Trooper Stephen Dozier and his partner, Trooper First-Class George A. Groves, IV, responded to a report of a crash that occurred at the top of a highway on-ramp. Upon arrival at the scene, Edwards admitted to rear-ending the vehicle in front of him, which had sustained heavy damage. The troopers arrested Edwards after he exhibited multiple indicia of intoxication.

B.

At the November 30, 2021 bench trial, Trooper Dozier testified that he has been a state trooper for over ten years and has received training focused on the detection of impaired drivers. He has made hundreds of DUI arrests, including 40-50 that were drug-related. (See N.T. Trial, 11/30/21, at 13). Based on his training and experience, Trooper Dozier identified the following indicators as typical of alcohol impairment: bloodshot, glassy eyes, the odor of alcohol on a person's breath, slurred speech, swaying and difficulty maintaining balance. With regard to drug impairment, Trooper Dozier looks for a "sluggish reaction. Their pupil size is a huge indicator, along the lines of being constricted, as opposed to dilated, which means a wider eye." (Id. at 14).

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Regarding the night of the incident, Trooper Dozier recounted that when he and Trooper Groves arrived at the scene, Edwards was walking along the shoulder of the highway near his car. Edwards admitted to the troopers that he had rear-ended the vehicle in front of him after it had stopped at the top of the on-ramp. Trooper Dozier "observed a heavy odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from [Edwards'] person [and] his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Further [Edwards had] a blank stare; it basically looked like he was looking beyond me. And his pupils were restricted, smaller than normal size." (Id. at 17-18). Edwards was not swaying back and forth at all and was instead slowly and sluggishly "just walking, barely walking [and] resting upon the concrete barrier on the side of the highway." (Id. at 18). Trooper Dozier opined that because of "his actions and his eyes, it was a combination of alcohol and drugs that [Edwards] was under, incapable of safely operating a vehicle." (Id. at 19). The trooper also explained that because Edwards' pupils were constricted as opposed to dilated and large in size associated with alcohol use only, he believed that Edwards was under the influence of drugs and alcohol combined, with his blank stare indicating opioid use.

Edwards was uncooperative with Trooper Dozier's requests, refused to produce identification, and immediately requested an attorney. The troopers handcuffed Edwards after he extended his wallet containing his license behind him over the concrete barrier. Trooper Dozier did not administer field sobriety tests because of Edwards' combative behavior and for safety reasons, as

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vehicles were passing by them on the highway. Edwards did not respond to the troopers' questions and he refused to submit to a blood draw.

Trooper Groves testified that he has been a state trooper for 15 years, a trooper first-class for three years, and that he has received training for detecting impaired and drug-impaired driving. He has made over 200 DUI arrests, with over 100 of these drug-related. Trooper Groves testified that indicators for alcohol impairment include bloodshot, glassy eyes, slurred speech and unsure footing, while individuals under the influence of drugs typically have a blank stare. Signs of opioid use are "sleepiness, blank stares, sometimes slurred speech, aggressive. They can be passive, also [and] usually [have] constricted pupils." (Id. at 49).

On the night of the incident, Trooper Groves first made contact with Edwards to assist Trooper Dozier in handcuffing him. Trooper Groves "smelled a strong odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath. He had bloodshot eyes, glassy, constricted pupils . . . [and] a blank stare. He was not talkative at all." (Id. at 50-51). Trooper Groves opined based on his observations that Edwards was under the influence of a combination of alcohol and drugs to a degree rendering him incapable of safe driving.

At the conclusion of trial, the trial court found Edwards guilty of DUI─combined influence of alcohol and drug(s) and the summary traffic offense. The court sentenced Edwards to a six-month term of DUI restrictive probation, with the first 72 hours on house arrest with electronic monitoring.

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The trial court denied Edwards' post-sentence motion in February 2022. Edwards timely appealed and he and the trial court complied with Rule 1925. See Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a)-(b). In its opinion, the trial court explained its determination that the Commonwealth had established all elements of Section 3802(d)(3) based on: Edwards' admission that he had rear-ended the vehicle in front of him; his passive aggressive behavior towards the troopers; and the troopers' opinions, based on years of training...

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