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Getting charged with drunk driving in Pennsylvania doesn’t have to put you on the road to ruin. If you’re facing a DUI in PA, arm yourself with information such as what the laws are for blood alcohol content (BAC) limits, what the penalties are for being convicted, and how you can fight drunk driving charges.
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How Can You Get A DUI In PA?
There are two ways to be charged with drunk driving in PA: Exceeding the legal BAC limits and being too impaired to drive safely.
Exceeding BAC Limits
Even if you feel okay to drive, you can get a DUI for testing over the legal BAC limit. Refusing a BAC test after being lawfully arrested for drunk driving is a civil infraction which could cost you your license for a year. Pennsylvania has various legal limits for BAC in place depending on the type of driver.
- Zero tolerance. Illegal for a minor to drive with a BAC of .02 percent
- DUI “per se.” Illegal for an adult to drive with a BAC of .08 percent (.04 for commercial vehicles, .02 for school bus drivers) or any amount of a controlled substance, including prescription drugs if they impair your driving
- Enhanced penalty. Penalties increase at BAC levels of .10 percent and .16 percent
Being Found Impaired Through Field Sobriety Tests Or Other Evidence
You can still be found unsafe to drive if your BAC is under the legal limit. A police officer can conduct “field sobriety tests,” the failure of which can be used as evidence against you in your DUI case. Standard field sobriety tests include the walk-and-turn test, one-leg stand test, and ‘horizontal gaze nystagmus’ test.
What Are The Penalties For A DUI In PA?
Pennsylvania imposes two types of penalties for DUIs which must be dealt with separately: Administrative penalties and judicial penalties.
An administrative penalty is non-criminal and imposed by the PA Department of Driver and Vehicle Services. In DUI cases, it consists of a license suspension or revocation. The cost to have your license reinstated is provided to you via a personal letter that you can request online near your eligibility date. The mandatory minimum length of suspension depends on the severity of your charge:
- No suspension for first offense with BAC under .10
- 30 days for first offense with BAC between .11 and .16
- 60 days for first offense with BAC over .16, if BAC is unknown, if drugs show up in the BAC test, or if the offense involves an accident with bodily injury or property damage
- 90 days if the defendant is a minor
- One year for refusal of breathalyzer or other chemical BAC test
For repeat offenders, license suspension can last 12 or 18 months. If you have prior DUI offenses, you will be required to install an ‘ignition interlock device’ to have your license reinstated.
Judicial penalties are imposed by the court. The severity of the penalties depends on your BAC level, whether you have prior offenses, and other factors such as whether there was an accident or whether a minor was riding with you.
1st DUI In PA
- BAC of .08-.099. Up to 6 months probation, $300 fine, safety school, possible treatment
- BAC of .10-.159. 48 hours-6 months jail time, $500-$5,000 fine, safety school, possible treatment
- BAC of .16 and higher, or controlled substance. 72 hours-6 months jail time, $1,000-$5,000 fine, safety school, possible treatment
2nd DUI In PA
- .08-.099 BAC. 5 days to 6 months jail time, $300-$2,500 fine, safety school, possible treatment
- .10-.159 BAC. 30 days-6 months jail time, $750-$5,000 fine, safety school, possible treatment
- .16 and higher BAC or controlled substance. 90 days-5 years prison, $1,500-$10,000 fine, safety school, possible treatment
3rd DUI In PA
- .08-.099 BAC. 10 days to 2 years prison, $500-$5,000 fine, possible treatment
- .10-.159 BAC. 90 days-5 years prison, $1,500-$10,000 fine, possible treatment
- .16 and higher BAC or controlled substance. 1-5 years prison, $2,500-$10,000 fine, possible treatment
After your third DUI or a DUI involving vehicular homicide hitting and killing another person with your car–any drunk driving charge will be considered a felony. With two prior DUIs, you may be charged with a felony if you refuse a BAC test or were driving with a minor in the car. If you’re convicted of a third DUI and an additional count, you can’t serve the sentences ‘concurrently,’ meaning they must be served one after the other.
How Can I Fight A DUI In PA?
A lawyer will know whether you qualify for a rehabilitative program or what defenses apply in your DUI case.
Pennsylvania offers an alternative to a first-time DUI conviction in the form of rehabilitative programs. Even if you had a high BAC, a good attorney may be able to help you replace your jail time with one of the following programs.
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)
If it’s your first DUI in PA and you have no criminal record, you may be accepted into this program in lieu of serving time. You must apply at your preliminary DUI hearing and meet the following requirements:
- First DUI offense and no prior convictions
- No serious bodily injury (other than the defendant)
- No minor under 14 years old was in the vehicle
- Driver’s license valid at the time of arrest
- Participation in Court Reporting Network evaluation and suggested treatment or counseling
- If applicable, evidence of refusal of a BAC test shared with ARD Court
Some courts help treat substance abuse by enrolling defendants in special drug court programs, which require supervision, drug testing, regular appearances in court, and participation in substance abuse treatment or recovery. It is up to the judge whether a defendant is eligible for drug court.
Drug Or Alcohol Treatment
These programs, such as 12-step programs, treat the defendant for substance abuse to get to the root of the problem. Like drug court, it is up to the judge whether participation in a recovery program can replace criminal penalties.
Defenses To DUI Charges
You can make legal defenses to various aspects of your arrest, including the testing method, why you were pulled over, or why you failed a test. A strong defense may not get you off the hook, but it may reduce your penalties. Common defenses include:
- The BAC test had flawed results
- The officer’s observations of your behavior are wrong
- The field sobriety test was given improperly
- Your impairment was caused by medication, a medical condition, or fatigue
- There was no probable cause to pull you over
- You did not receive a Miranda warning
- You were not in control of the vehicle–for example, you were resting in a parked car
Arrested For DUI In PA?
Facing a criminal case can be scary, but you don’t have to do it on your own. Seeking legal representation can help you obtain the best result if you are facing a DUI in Pennsylvania.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information, but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.