A DUI charge in Pennsylvania can carry serious consequences. Not only can you face jail time, a criminal record, and other legal ramifications — but a DUI can also impact your reputation, standing in the community, and ability to get a job. However, it’s essential to understand that a charge doesn’t always mean a conviction. A skillful criminal defense attorney can work to have the DUI charges reduced or possibly dismissed entirely.
Here are ten things you should know about the DUI laws in PA.
When you drive, operate, or control a vehicle in Pennsylvania, you are giving your implied consent under the law to have your blood or breath tested for drugs or alcohol. But this doesn’t mean an officer can randomly request a chemical BAC test — PA law also specifies that an officer must have reasonable suspicion based on their observations that you were intoxicated to administer a breathalyzer or chemical test.
Pennsylvania DUI law states, your vehicle does not have to be in motion to be charged with a DUI. Specifically, it is illegal to have “actual physical control” of a vehicle while you are under the influence. Pennsylvania courts consider the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether a person accused of a DUI meets this standard. This means that if you are in the driver’s seat of a parked car with the engine running, you could be charged with a DUI if your BAC is above the legal limit — even if the vehicle was not moving.
It is possible to be charged with a DUI if your BAC was under .08% and police can show you were not capable of driving your vehicle safely after drinking alcohol. Critically, commercial vehicle drivers are allowed a BAC of no more than .04% and drivers under 21 can be charged with a DUI offense for having a BAC of .02%.
Under PA DUI law, if your BAC was more than .1% but less than 0.159%, you could be charged with a “High Rate BAC” and face enhanced penalties. A BAC result of .16% or higher can result in a “Highest Rate BAC” charge. With a BAC at the highest level, a driver could face up to a $5,000 fine, a 12-month license suspension, six months in jail, and other penalties — even if they had no prior offenses. Drivers with previous DUI offenses can be subject to even steeper penalties.
It’s important to be aware that even a first DUI can come with serious penalties if your BAC was high enough. But even for a general impairment DUI, a first-time offender will likely be charged with a misdemeanor. Although there is no mandatory jail time in such cases, you can face six months of probation, a $300 fine, and be required to take DUI classes.
Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, PA DUI law may allow you to challenge the breathalyzer test results to show that they are not reliable and should not be used against you. For instance, you may have a medical condition or have been on a certain type of medication that could skew the results. The test may also yield inaccurate results if the device was not calibrated, or the test was not properly administered. Certain foreign substances and environmental factors may also yield a false result.
Under the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty — this goes for any crime, including DUIs. Just because DUI charges were brought against you doesn’t always mean you’ll be found guilty of the offense. The prosecution must still prove their case against you and establish your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they are unable to do so, the jury must return a verdict of “not-guilty.”
If you have no criminal record or prior DUIs, you may be able to participate in Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. However, you are usually required to waive your preliminary hearing and formal arraignment to participate. If you are approved by the court, you will be placed on probation, ordered to pay fines, and complete community service, and possibly engage in other court-ordered services. In the event you qualify for and complete the program, you may be able to resolve your case without having a criminal record.
Under the Pennsylvania DUI laws, you may be required to install an interlock ignition device in your vehicle if you’re a first-time offender with a high BAC level or a repeat offender. This may also be required if you refuse chemical testing. Generally, the device must be on the vehicle for a period of one year from the date your driving privileges are restored.
Whether it’s your first DUI or your third, it’s best to have the representation of a criminal defense attorney who knows the system and can fight the charges against you. A skilled attorney will know how to build a successful defense strategy and may be able to negotiate a plea for a lesser offense. They will also have deep knowledge of Pennsylvania’s DUI laws and criminal procedures which they can use to challenge the evidence the prosecution raises against you.
A DUI charge can be life changing. It’s vital to have the representation of a criminal defense attorney who can safeguard your rights. Located in Exeter, Pennsylvania, The Kulick Law Firm is committed to helping clients who face DUI charges obtain the best results in their cases. Call (570) 203-2756 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.