DUI & Criminal Matters
Getting arrested and charged with driving under the influence can be a shock. Pennsylvania has strict and complex DUI laws in place, with penalties ranging from fines and probation to as many as five years in prison. The key to dealing with the DUI charge is knowing the law and turning to experience legal advice for help. A DUI is a serious criminal offense, not a traffic violation, and good representation is essential.
If you are facing DUI charges in Pennsylvania area call James DeSanto. Call today, it is important to start working on your defense right away!
DUI Double Punch in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania defines driving under the influence in two ways. First, it is a crime to drive or control the movement of a motor vehicle after drinking enough alcohol to render yourself an unsafe driver. This is known as “driving under the influence” (DUI) or “driving while impaired” (DWI.) Second, it is illegal to drive or control a motor vehicle after drinking enough alcohol that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is more than 0.08 within two hours of your arrest, the legal limit in every state. This is known as the “per se” rule. Typically, prosecutors rely on the per se rule, while the other definition serves as a backup. But sometimes prosecutors use the distinction between these two statues to double-charge defendants, charging them once for having alcohol or drugs in their blood and again for driving erratically due to intoxication.
Different DUIs for Different Drivers in Pennsylvania
DUI cases in Pennsylvania are divided
DUI cases in Pennsylvania are divided into a three-level system. At the bottom are defendants charged with blowing between 0.08 and 0.099. For a first offense, penalties at this level include six months probation, classes, treatment and fines. The second level includes drivers charged with blowing between 0.10 and 0.159, along with drivers from the first level whose charges involve property damage or personal injury. Commercial drivers who blow 0.04 or higher, school bus drivers who blow 0.02 or higher, and minors who blow 0.02 or higher also fall into this category. For a first offense, penalties here include between two days and six months in jail, plus a one-year license suspension, classes, treatment and fines. The third level includes drivers who blow higher than 0.16, as well as impaired drivers who refuse to submit to breathalyzers or other BAC tests. This group faces penalties including between three days and six months in jail on a first offense, plus a one-year license suspension, classes, treatment and fines. Penalties at each of these levels increase substantially for subsequent offenses.
DUIs and Drugs in Pennsylvania
Driving under the influence of any controlled substance is illegal in Pennsylvania unless the drug has been lawfully prescribed — and you have a prescription to prove it. There is no legal limit; driving or controlling a vehicle with any amount of any illegal drug in your bloodstream constitutes driving under the influence. This includes drug metabolites, which in some cases can linger for days or even weeks after drug use. In other words, it isn’t a question of impairment, it’s a question of presence: The presence of any illegal drug in your system while driving is a DUI. This is a third-level DUI offense, punishable by three days to six months in jail on a first offense, along with a one-year suspension, classes, treatment and fines.
About a year ago, Governor Wolf signed new legislation into law which will change the way a DUI conviction will affect your driver’s license. The new law, which focuses primarily on ignition interlock devices, is now in effect. The law requires many DUI offenders to obtain ignition interlock devices for their vehicles even for a first offense DUI conviction. At the same time, it will also allow many people to keep their driver’s licenses who would have otherwise lost their licenses for a year. The intended effect is that the law will prevent DUI offenders from driving drunk while at the same time allowing them to keep their licenses so that they do not lose employment.
Under the previous DUI law, a judge could not order a defendant convicted of DUI to obtain an ignition interlock device for his or her car for a first offense. Further, a first-offense DUI conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol would result in a mandatory one-year license suspension for BACs above .10. Once the law goes into effect, motorists convicted of DUI will have to obtain an ignition interlock for their cars for at least one year. The devices require the driver to blow into a tube that measures the driver’s blood alcohol content (“BAC”). If the driver’s BAC is too high, then the car will not start. However, if the driver submits proof that he or she obtained the ignition interlock device to PennDOT, then the driver will be permitted to drive with an ignition interlock driver’s license instead of having their license suspended for a year. This means that it will be possible to completely avoid the previously-mandatory driver’s license suspension for a first-offense DUI conviction. The law also shortens the mandatory suspension for second and subsequent offenses as it allows the defendant to apply for the ignition interlock license after serving a portion of the license suspension.
These ignition interlock devices will be expensive. PennDOT has contracted with a number of companies which will install the devices in an offender’s car. The cost to the driver will range from $650 to $1100 for the ignition interlock. However, PennDOT does offer a program for defendants who are unable to afford the device. If the defendant can show that they are below a certain income level, then the state will pay for the ignition interlock. Additionally, if the defendant drives an employer-owned vehicle for work, the defendant may submit the appropriate documentation to PennDOT in order to apply for a waiver of the ignition interlock requirement for the employer-owned vehicle.
The devices will not be required for first-time offenders who are accepted into the ARD program. Under the terms of the ARD program, the defendant must complete a period of probation, pay fines and costs, attend classes, and the defendant may have his or her driver’s license suspended for up to two month depending on the BAC level at the time of the offense. However, if the defendant successfully completes the program, then the case will be dismissed and the record of the arrest can be expunged.
WHY A CRIMINAL MISDEMEANOR OR SUMMARY CHARGE IS MORE SERIOUS THAN YOU THINK
Whether you are facing a misdemeanor DUI, drug, theft or assault charge in Pennsylvania, your main goal is likely to avoid jail time. When you learn that not every misdemeanor conviction guarantees jail time, you may be tempted to plead guilty and accept the penalties in order to “move on.”
However, little or no jail time does not mean you won’t pay for the conviction for the rest of your life.
That’s I take every charge seriously, analyze the evidence thoroughly and build the best defense for you to decrease the chances of conviction, or minimize the impact on your life.
PROTECTING YOU FROM SUFFERING LIFELONG CONSEQUENCES
The following lifelong repercussions are associated with a misdemeanor conviction:
- Difficulty qualifying for housing: A misdemeanor conviction on your criminal record could disqualify you from renting many places. Some landlords may take into consideration what the misdemeanor was for, while others may not accept any misdemeanors at all. This greatly reduces your options on where you can live, and you may be forced to look for housing at a higher cost, or forced to live in an area that accepts criminal records but was not your first choice for location.
- Inability to qualify for federal financial aid for college: A drug conviction will prohibit you from receiving federal financial aid, including grants and loans for college for a period of time. This could force you to discontinue your education, not graduate on time or struggle to make ends meet to pay for your education.
- Barriers to attaining employment: Many employers conduct criminal background checks during the hiring process, which could mean losing out on a favorable job.
Also, even summary offenses could prevent you from obtaining employment, especially involving theft (Retail Theft), Violence (Harassment) and minor Drug / Alcohol offenses.
Finally, you should know that if you are not eligible for ARD, a Misdemeanor conviction cannot be expunged until you are 70 years old and a summary conviction cannot be expunged for 5 years.
PROTECTING YOU TODAY AND TOMORROW
You should not have to struggle in any of these areas for the rest of your life, or be put in situations that hinder you financially because of this one mistake. An attorney or lawyer who is skilled and experienced in criminal defense can help you find out how to minimize the impact of misdemeanor charges against you.