Being arrested for drunk driving is an unexpected and often traumatic experience. Individuals charged with or convicted of impaired and intoxicated driving are often stigmatized and portrayed as irresponsible, dangerous criminals; however, the truth is that the people faced with these charges are often everyday, law-abiding citizens who simply made a mistake.
There are more arrests in Pennsylvania for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) than any other single category of crimes. Nationally, more than 670,000 people were arrested in 2018 for DUI, which equates to a population-adjusted rate of about 310 per 100,000 people. Pennsylvania was among the top fifteen states with an arrest rate of 352 per 100,000 people.
Although there are more DUI arrests in highly populated areas, the rate of arrest, based on population density, is actually higher in rural areas. DUI cuts across age and social economic ranges. There is not a significant difference in the percentages of arrest in age groups between 21 and 54. Men make up 74% of DUI arrests. Most arrests occur in May through July of each year when driving is more frequent.
Many DUI charges are quite defensible, based on the evidence surrounding your charges and any missteps that may have been made by law enforcement authorities along the way.
For instance, some successful DUI charges have involved disputing the reliability of breathalyzer results, challenging the appropriateness of a traffic stop, and defects in the administration of field sobriety tests. Any shortcomings by police and prosecutors could lead to reduced penalties or charges being dismissed altogether.
When law enforcement officers and state prosecutors try to paint you as a criminal, you need an experienced attorney on your side who understands your situation and can guide you through the process with compassion and empathy. Let our experienced DUI defense lawyers build a defense and ensure you know what to expect at each step of the legal process.
Consequences of DUI
DUI First Offense Penalties
The severity of a First Offense DUI conviction depends on your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level, controlled substances in your system or your decision to refuse blood or breath testing. The higher your BAC, the higher the penalties. Drugs in your system or a refusal to submit to breath or blood testing places you in the highest tier. Under Pennsylvania law, there are 3 tiers of punishment depending upon your BAC level.
- BAC between .08 and .099%: Six months’ probation, no license suspension, no mandatory jail time, no ignition interlock device, a fine of $300, CRN evaluation (drug and alcohol assessment), treatment when ordered by the court, and alcohol highway safety school. No ignition interlock device required.
- BAC between .10 and 0.159%: Prison sentence of between two days and six months, license suspension for 12 months (eligibility to apply for an occupational limited license (OLL) after 60 days), fines between $500 and $5,000, CRN evaluation, treatment when ordered by the court, and alcohol highway safety school. No ignition interlock device required.
- BAC of .16% or higher, controlled substance or refusal to submit to chemical/breath test: Prison sentence of a minimum of three days to a maximum of six months, license suspension for 12 months (eligibility to apply for an OLL after 60 days), fines between $1,000 and $5,000, treatment when ordered by the court, and alcohol highway safety school. No ignition interlock device required.
DUI Driver’s License Suspension
Aside from the penalties above for a first DUI offense, second and third offenses will result in your license being suspending for one year. This is the most damaging and destructive outcome to receiving a DUI. Losing the ability to drive can have a massive ripple effect on other areas of your life. When you lose your right to drive, you also lose your independence. You can no longer travel on your own. You have to depend on others for transportation.
Most importantly, losing your license can cause you to lose your job. Not being able to drive means it will be very difficult to report to work on time every day. Not being able to report to work often leads to termination. Even if you find another job, it will be just as difficult to get to and from a new job without a license. You might end up unemployed until you get your license reinstated. Some people are lucky enough to get help from friends or family, but it is still nearly impossible to fulfill your obligations without your own means of transportation. And, if you refuse to give breath or blood, you may receive an additional one year drivers license suspension form the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
Second DUI Offense Penalties
Drivers convicted of a second DUI within ten years of a prior DUI face serious criminal and financial consequences. Not only will you face a mandatory term of incarceration, but you are likely to face additional penalties, as well.
The higher the BAC, the more severe your penalties are likely to be. For example, the amount of fines that you will be ordered to pay if convicted of DUI will vary depending on your BAC level:
- BAC 0.08-0.09% – Minimum of 5 days and up to 6 months in jail; $300 to $2,500 in fines; license suspended for 12 months.
- BAC 0.10-0.159% – 30 days to 6 months jail time; $750-$5,000 fines; license suspended 12 months.
- BAC 0.16% and up – 90 days to 5 years imprisonment; $1,500 – $10,000 fines; license suspended for 18 months.
- All BACs – Ignition interlock device installed for 1 year; up to 150 hours community service; Alcohol Highway Safety School enrollment; Alcohol and drug treatment program.
Third DUI Offense Penalties
If you have been convicted of two prior DUIs in the past 10 years, the next offense could become your third conviction. Depending on your BAC level at the time of arrest, you may face consequences that include:
- BAC 0.08-0.09% – 2nd degree misdemeanor charges; 10 days to 2 years incarceration; 12 month license suspension; $500 to $5,000 in fines.
- BAC 0.10-0.159% – 1st degree misdemeanor charge; 18 month license suspension; 1-5 years in prison; fines between $1,500 and $10,000.
- BAC 0.16% and up – 1st degree misdemeanor charges and penalties similar to above.
- All BACs – Drug and alcohol treatment; Alcohol Highway Safety School enrollment; ignition interlock device installed for minimum of 1 year.
In Pennsylvania, minors are not allowed to consume any amount of alcohol and drive. Underage driving under the influence of alcohol carries very harsh penalties. Not only are the legal penalties increased but the effects on car insurance rates and future employment are also severe.
Driving Under the age of 21 with a DUI Lands You in the “high” B.A.C. Rate in Pennsylvania
Any driver under the age of 21 who is arrested for DUI in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is automatically charged under the state’s “high” B.A.C. rate. That means that even if it is a first offense, even if the amount of alcohol in your system is minimal, the punishment is probably going to be severe.
The minimum penalties for high level impairment include at least two days in prison, with a maximum sentence of 6 months behind bars, if you are convicted. You’ll be forced to pay a minimum fine of $500, and possibly as much as $5,000. And your license will be suspended for 12 months – meaning you won’t be able to drive for a full year.
Minors who are found guilty of underage DUI (BAC of .02% or higher) face possible jail for a lease 48 hours, fines between $500 and $5,000 and will likely be required to attend alcohol driving safety classes. In addition, they face a drivers’ license suspension of up to three months if any alcohol is found in their system.
Long-term Consequences of a Underage DUI
The long-term consequences of an underage DUI are significant. The cost of auto insurance will increase. On average in 2017, an underage DUI raised car insurance rates by 77%. The financial impact of the violation can linger for three to five years in most states Depending on your driving history, you may not be able to get auto insurance at all.
The impact of your DUI conviction won’t be limited to your insurance. Your DUI conviction will automatically become part of your permanent criminal record. This means that employers, colleges, universities, banks, friends and even strangers will all see your DUI if they do a routine background check or simply look it up online.
If your child has been arrested for underage DUI, it is important to take legal action as soon as possible. Our experienced underage DUI attorneys can help your child fight these charges and reduce the long term consequences of these charges.
Chemical Testing – Blood and Breath Tests
The police must conduct a breath test within two hours of the initial arrest or the results of that test may be deemed inadmissible in court. An officer will read you the Implied Consent Law, which states that all drivers agree to submit to a breath or blood test if suspected of DUI. However, a suspect still has the right to refuse any chemical testing.
Refusal Whether you agree to be tested or refuse, the police are almost assuredly going to arrest you for DUI. If you refuse, police view that as an admission of guilt. That is, if you are not willing to be tested, it must be because you know you will fail. Refusal of breath testing carries its own penalties, including:
- First offense: one-year drivers’ license suspension
- Second offense: 18-month license suspension
- Third offense: 18-month license suspension.
These penalties are in addition to any DUI penalties that you may be facing. The District Attorney must prove that you refused to take the test in order to be found guilty. There may be reasons why you could not take the test or if you were unable to provide a enough breath sample for the test to be valid. Refusal cases are defensible cases. They are worth fighting because if convicted, you will not be able to obtain a occupational limited license to drive to and from work.
If you are tested and you blow above the .08 BAC limit, you will be arrested and charged with DUI. And, even if you blow slightly below the legal limit, you may also be arrested as police will say that your careless driving is proof of impairment and your levels were likely higher at the time of the stop. At trial, the Commonwealth can try to introduce “relation back” testimony through a chemist to demonstrate what your BAC was at the time of the stop in relation to when the test was administered.
Police generally only request blood tests if there is suspicion of drug use based on the smell of marijuana or recovery of narcotics from the vehicle. Despite the above inference that police and the prosecution will try to draw from a refusal, many choose to refuse for other reasons and those can be explained at trial. However, all drivers must be aware that regardless of the outcome of the criminal matter, your driving privileges will likely be suspended by PennDOT for one year simply for the refusal to submit to chemical testing.
There are many ways to challenge the accuracy of the Breathalyzer machine and the manner in which the test was conducted as well as the timing of the breath or blood test in relation to your stop.
Field Sobriety Tests
The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a battery of 3 tests performed during a traffic stop in order to determine if a driver is impaired and if probable cause for an arrest is present. According to researchers, officers trained to conduct SFSTs correctly identified alcohol-impaired drivers over 90% of the time using the results of SFSTs.
The 3 tests that make up the SFST are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand tests. The HGN test is performed to observe whether the driver’s eyes involuntarily jerk as a stimulus is moved side to side. Both the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests are “divided attention” tests that are easily performed by most sober drivers. They require a subject to listen and follow instructions while performing simple physical movements. Impaired persons have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention be divided between simple mental and physical tasks.
There are many factors that might render a person unable to successfully complete one or more of the SFSTs. For instance, regarding the HGN test, the person asked to consent to such a test might be suffering from an eye disease or condition that affects his/her ability to see and consequently confound the test and results. Age, injury or disease could also affect the ability of a person to perform the one-leg stand test or the walk and turn test. As a general rule, an officer should ask the DUI suspect whether they can give any reason why they cannot perform the test and their answer should be carefully noted in the officer’s report. Other disabilities, such as deafness, should be taken into consideration and noted as well.
Admissibility of Standardized Field Sobriety Test Results
Developed in the 1970s, these tests are scientifically validated, and are admissible as evidence in court in a majority of states. In the case of Commonwealth v. Weaver, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued a precedential opinion that the results of HGN testing are admissible at any hearings related to a court’s consideration of probable cause, but the results are still not admissible at an actual trial. In Pennsylvania DUI cases, criminal defense lawyers sometimes file pretrial motions seeking the suppression of blood alcohol evidence and argue that the arresting officer did not have probable cause to arrest the person. The court’s decision means that an officer will be permitted to testify about HGN results before a judge considering the pretrial motion, but the officer could not present the same testimony to a jury at a trial.
Aside from sobriety tests, officers are also permitted to use portable or preliminary breath tests (PBTs) in DUI investigations. While the officer obtained an alcohol concentration level reading on the breath test device, the actual reading on the device is not admissible at a trial. The results of a PBT test are not sufficiently reliable to show the amount of alcohol consumed. Instead, officers are only permitted to testify to the facts surrounding the administration of the test. However, sometimes the PBT test might help the defense. The results of the test could be used as exculpatory evidence concerning whether the officer has probably cause to make an arrest for DUI.
DUI Impact on Auto Insurance
Your rates could jump—or they could skyrocket.
Companies estimate that your post-DUI rates could increase by anywhere between 40%-60% percent—or even more. The reason? Your auto insurance rate is seriously affected by your driving record. If you’ve got a DUI on your record, insurance companies might (read: very likely will) see you as a high-risk driver, and charge you accordingly. The amount by which your premiums rise will be impacted by your insurer and your location.
Your car insurance company might drop you all together.
Though they can’t legally cancel your policy as soon as they know about the incident, they can decide not to renew your coverage once your current policy expires.
You might be paying more for years to come.
It varies state-by-state, but expect to shell out an increased premium for at least three years.
You’ll probably have to file an SR-22, FR-44, or FR-19. After a DUI, your state might require you to file one of these forms in order to prove that you’re insured before they let you back on the road. SR-22’s are also referred to as “statements of financial responsibility,” and they’re usually filed by your insurance company or agency on your behalf. You may not have to file an SR-22; again, that depends on incidental factors around the accident.