Pennsylvania v. Olson (majority)Annotate this Case
Jeffrey Olson entered an open guilty plea to one count of driving under the influence of alcohol, general impairment (“DUI”) in September 2015. This was Olson’s third DUI offense, and, at the time, he was subject to a sentence enhancement due to his refusal to submit to blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) testing. In December 2015, the trial court sentenced Olson to a term of eighteen months’ to five years’ imprisonment, applying a then-applicable mandatory minimum sentencing provision. Olson did not file a direct appeal, and his sentence became final on January 20, 2016. On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160 (2016), which held, inter alia, that a state may not “impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit” to a warrantless blood test. On August 17, 2016, Olson filed a timely, pro se petition for relief under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), challenging, amongst other things, the legality of his sentence in light of Birchfield. The PCRA court affirmed Olson's conviction and sentence, finding that because Olson's judgment of sentence was already final, he might be entitled to benefit from Birchfield if that decision were deemed to apply retroactively on collateral review. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that because Birchfield did not set forth a “categorical constitutional guarantee” that placed criminal punishment for blood test refusal “altogether beyond the State’s power to impose” but rather, established a procedural requirement that, once satisfied, authorized that punishment, the Birchfield rule was not substantive. Accordingly, Birchfield did not apply retroactively on post-conviction collateral review.