What are the Penalties for DUI in Pennsylvania?Sponsored Answer
In 2004, Pennsylvania completely revamped its DUI laws, at the same time that it lowered the BAC (blood alcohol content) threshold to .08. These changes were made in response to a federal law, which made federal highway money contingent upon states lowering their DUI thresholds to .08. In general, the penalties for first offenders were lowered, while the penalties for repeat offenders were increased. The revised Pennsylvania DUI laws also provide for increased penalties for defendants with higher BACs than those with lower BACs. This eliminated the long-criticized absurdity of treating people with a .30 BAC the same as those with a .10 BAC.
Pennsylvania divides DUI into three tiers, based upon BAC. These tiers are officially referred to as "general impairment," "high rate" and "highest rate," which is similar to the confusing practice of pizzas being described as "medium," "large" and "extra large." To avoid confusion, most people use the more logical terms "middle" and "high" when referring to the two highest BAC tiers.
A general impairment DUI is charged when a driver's BAC is between .08 and .10; a middle tier DUI is charged when the driver's BAC was between .10 and .159, while a high BAC DUI is charged when the BAC is over .160. If a driver refuses to take a chemical test, the DUI is charged as "general impairment," but carries the same penalties as a highest rate DUI. Also, all drug DUIs are charged as highest rate, even in situations where a driver with only trace amounts of cannaboids in his blood is far less impaired from a medical standpoint than a driver with a BAC of .13.
In order to establish consistency among the various Courts of Common Pleas throughout the Commonwealth, DUI convictions carry mandatory minimum sentences. The mandatory minimum sentence for first offense DUI are as follows: General Impairment: 1) Probation not to exceed six months; 2) $300 fine; 3) DUI classes; 4) drug and alcohol treatment, if ordered by the Court. There is no mandatory jail time or loss of driver's license for a first offense, general impairment DUI. Middle Tier DUI: 1) 48 hours in jail followed by six months of parole; 2) one year driver's license suspension; 3) $500 mandatory fine, but the fine could be as much as $5,000 at the discretion of the Court; 4) drug and alcohol treatment when ordered by the Court; 5) DUI classes. The mandatory minimum sentence for a first offense High Tier DUI is 1) 72 hours in jail followed by six months of parole; 2) one year driver's license suspension; 3) $1,000 mandatory fine, but the fine could be as much as $5,000.
Most first time DUI offenders will opt to avail themselves of the ARD program, which stands for "Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition." ARD allows defendants to greatly reduce both the direct and collateral consequences for DUI. Those who successfully complete the ARD program avoid jail time, and have much shorter diver's license suspensions. Most importantly, when a defendant successfully completes the ARD program, his or her attorney can file a motion for dismissal of the charges and expungement of arrest record. Expungement is most important for young people, who are just entering the job market, or adults who are looking for a new job, or planning to switch jobs. In the modern world, most companies perform criminal background checks prior to hiring.
In addition to being a mandatory minimum offense, DUI is also a "stacking offense." This means that every time a person is convicted of a subsequent DUI, the penalties increase. Prior to the 2004 Pennsylvania DUI law revisions, there was a seven year "look back" provision for determining prior DUI convictions, while the look back period is now 10 years. The look back period runs from prior conviction date to the new offense date. For look back purposes, ARD placement is treated the same as a conviction. Thus, it you were placed on ARD on September 15, 2009, and are arrested for a second DUI on September 1, 2019, it will count as a second offense for mandatory minimum purposes, even if the police officer did not actually file the DUI charges until September 20, 2019, and even if the actual date of your first offense was more than 10 years prior to the actual date of your second DUI offense. In other words, a well-intentioned cop cannot help a sympathetic defendant avoid being charged with a second offense DUI simply by holding off on filing charges, as the date of the second offense, rather than the date charges are filed, is the controlling factor. Conversely, it is the date of ARD placement or sentencing, which is the operative date for the first DUI.
The mandatory minimum sentence for a second offense DUI depends upon one's BAC. The mandatory minimum sentence for a general impairment DUI (BAC between .08 and .099) is 1) five days to six months in county jail; 2) a 12 month driver's license suspension; 3) a fine ranging from $300 to $2,500; 4) DUI classes; 5) drug and alcohol treatment when ordered; and 6) the guardian interlock must be installed on all vehicles owned by the defendant during the first year after his driver's license is restored. A second offense general impairment DUI is incredibly rare, because most people who receive a second DUI are seasoned drinkers with a high tolerance. Such people tend not to make driving mistakes until their BAC is well above .16.
The mandatory minimum sentence for a second offense middle tier DUI (.10 to .159) is 1) 30 days to six months in county jail; 2) a fine ranging from $750 to $5,000; 3) a 12 month driver's license suspension; 4) DUI classes; 5) drug and alcohol treatment when ordered; and 6) the guardian interlock must be installed on all vehicles owned by the defendant during the first year after his driver's license is restored. Second offense middle tier DUIs are not uncommon, but not nearly as common as second offense DUIs at the highest tier.
The mandatory minimum sentence for a second, offense highest tier DUI (BAC greater than .16, or any illegal drug, combination of any amount of alcohol and illegal drug, or chemical test refusal) is 1) 90 days to five years incarceration; 2) a fine ranging from $1,500 to $10,000; 3) 18 month driver's license suspension; 4) DUI classes; 5) drug and alcohol treatment when ordered (it will always be ordered); 6) the guardian interlock must be installed on all vehicles owned by the defendant during the first year after his driver's license is restored.
In most Pennsylvania counties, house arrest, rather than jail time, is a possibility for second offense DUI offenders. House arrest policies vary from county to county. In some counties, a defendant can serve the entire mandatory minimum sentence on house arrest, while most counties require second offense DUI offenders to serve a portion of the sentence in county jail, followed by parole into house arrest for the remainder of the mandatory minimum sentence.
The mandatory minimum sentence for a third offense, general impairment DUI is 1) 10 days to two years incarceration; 2) 12 month driver's license suspension; 3) fine ranging from $500 to $5,000; 4) drug and alcohol treatment when ordered; and 5) the guardian interlock must be installed on all vehicles owned by the defendant during the first year after his driver's license is restored. A third offense general impairment DUI is so rare, that I have never actually seen one. The vast majority of people who receive a third offense DUI in a 10 year time frame are alcoholics, whether they are prepared to admit it or not. Such people are not going to be impaired enough with a BAC below .10 for a police officer to notice any bad driving. The most likely scenario for someone to receive a DUI in this category would be a DUI check point, or a traffic accident, which may have been caused by another driver or pedestrian.
The mandatory minimum sentence for a third offense, middle tier DUI is 1) 90 days in jail followed by a five year "tail" (period of supervision); 2) 18 month driver's license suspension; 3) a fine ranging from $1,500 to $10,000, 4) treatment when ordered (it is always ordered); 5) the guardian interlock must be installed on all vehicles owned by the defendant during the first year after his driver's license is restored.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of third offense DUIs are in the highest rate category. The mandatory minimum for this DUI category is as follows: 1) one to five years incarceration; 2) 18 month driver's license suspension; 3) a fine ranging from $2,500 to $10,000; 4) drug and alcohol treatment; 5) the guardian interlock must be installed on all vehicles owned by the defendant during the first year after his driver's license is restored.
Many counties now offer a "DUI Treatment Court" for third offense DUI defendants. This allows participants to serve a portion of their sentence in county jail, followed by house arrest. The other benefit is that participants stay in the community rather than going to state prison, which allows them to maintain employment. The program also incorporates substance abuse treatment, which helps participants transition into a sober lifestyle.
If you are charged with a DUI, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. If you cannot afford an attorney, you should contact the public defender's office in the county where the offense occurred. It is never advisable that you try to represent yourself. The legal system was not designed to be user friendly for those who do not work in the system.
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