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Significant Change In Pennsylvania DUI Law

Big Changes in PA DUI Law

SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN PENNSYLVANI DUI LAW

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Chichkin, 2020 Pa. Super 121, No. 3475 EDA 2018. This decision will change the availability and applicability of the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (“ARD”) programs in DUI cases.

DUI-FIRST OFFENSE FOR OFFENDERS WHO ACCEPT ARD

The ARD program is a pre-trial diversionary program typically offered to first time offenders under certain conditions. If accepted, you will have a 6-12 month probation under ARD supervision.  You will attend mandatory Highway Safety classes. You may lose your license for some time.  The ARD program cost to you is $1,500 to $2,000.  At the completion of the ARD probation, you can petition the court to dismiss and expunge the charges. If granted, then your arrest information should be destroyed and charges dismissed.  Even though your record was expunged, the charging authority would maintain its own records and “count” the ARD as a first offense for purposes of handling and grading subsequent DUI offenses, including the imposition of heightened penalties for second or subsequent DUI offenses.   

In this recent decision the Superior Court held that prior acceptance of ARD does not constitute a prior offense under the DUI statute. The Court reasoned that the purpose of the ARD program is not to convict the defendant but offer rehabilitation and treatment for behavioral issues. Therefore, the mere acceptance of ARD is not correlative to a conviction for DUI.

IMPACT ON DUI SENTENCING

The court’s decision substantially lessens the potential criminal liability a defendant may face who has had prior contacts with a DUI. For example, under the statute as previously interpreted, a defendant who accepted ARD and was charged with DUI faced a mandatory minimum of ninety (90) days in jail for refusal or highest tier DUI. Under the new interpretation of the statute, the same defendant would now be treated as a first-time offender and face a mandatory minimum sentence of seventy-two hours incarceration if convicted. Instead of an eighteen-month license suspension the defendant would now face a twelve month license suspension if convicted since the alleged crime would be treated as a first-offense.

IMPACT ON ARD PROGRAM FOR FIRST-TIME OFFENDERS

The new development in the law makes ARD a substantially better deal for a first time offender BUT ARD may be offered less frequently. Previously, if a defendant accepted ARD and was later convicted of DUI he would be treated as a second-offender with far higher penalties. Therefore, it made sense to take a case to trial and win the case rather than accept the program since a not guilty verdict did not qualify as a prior offense. Now that ARD does not qualify as a “prior offense” there is very little difference between a not guilty verdict and acceptance of the ARD program. This may encourage more individuals to accept the program since it is not viewed as an admission of guilt and cannot be used against the defendant if he is subsequently arrested for Driving Under the Influence.

The change in the law may reduce the availability of ARD for first-time offenders. The ability to treat a DUI following a prior ARD as a second offense was a key trade-off that made the ARD program widely available. Now that the ARD cannot be treated as a first offense, authorities may be far less likely to offer ARD to first time offenders.

SPEAK WITH AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER ABOUT YOUR CASE

If you have been charged with Driving Under the Influence, First, Second, or Third Offense it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your options. You may be eligible for a program like ARD. ARD is not a great program for persons with professional licensures such as doctors, nurses, attorneys, chiropractors, etc. You may also have a strong defense to the case that would result in an acquittal at trial. Therefore, before you accept a program or decide to plead guilty speak with an attorney about our options.

Attorney Vern Parkinson has 25 years of experience defending individuals charged with Driving Under the Influence and related misdemeanor offenses in the many Western Pennsylvania courts.  His aggressive representation has resulted in acquittals for defendants charged with DUI.  While every case is different, and case results may vary depending on the particular facts of your case, it is important that you speak with an experienced and strong advocate before accepting the government’s proposed resolution to your case. 

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