A DUI arrest can be traumatic and life-changing for many people. It can also be very scary, extremely embarrassing, and can feel like a living nightmare. This is especially true if you were arrested or charged after a DUI accident with injuries or damages. You could lose your driver’s license and not be able to get to work or pick your kids up from school.
You could be sentenced to prison, placed under house arrest, and have a permanent mark on your record — affecting job applications, college admissions, and other important life functions. Having aggressive and experienced Pittsburgh DUI lawyers to fight for your rights, negotiate with the prosecution, and thoroughly investigate your case is the best way to increase your chances of having your charges reduced or dropped.
DUI vs. DWI
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI) are terms that are used generally used interchangeably. However, DWI may refer to someone operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. DUI, however, may indicate that a vehicle was operated while under the influence of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and/or alcohol.
While DUI in Pennsylvania includes both drugs and alcohol, determining the influence of drugs isn’t always easy. A breathalyzer can tell police if you exceed the legal blood alcohol limit but cannot tell if you are high on drugs. So, if the police suspect drug use, they may summon a trained officer to identify the signs.
If the signs point to a high likelihood of drug use, you may be asked to submit to a blood test to confirm or refute the suspicion. And the presence of any drugs, including legal ones, can lead to a criminal charge. DUI charges in Pennsylvania could be brought against you if a painkiller impairs your driving judgment. If a prescribed drug’s label says not operate heavy machinery while using it and you are caught driving with the prescription in your system, a DUI charge may result.
Losing Your Driver’s License Under Pennsylvania DUI Law
A driver’s license is a privilege and not a right that gives many people the freedom to travel, and no one wants to lose their freedom. In Pennsylvania, sentencing for a DUI / DWI is very tough. Depending on your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level and the circumstances in which the events unfolded, you could face losing your license for up to 18 months or even permanently if it is not your first offense.
The sentencing range for a first-time DUI for a driver with a BAC level of .10% to .159% includes a one-year license suspension and a fine of up to $5,000, among other penalties. A second DUI occurring within 10 years of the first even with the lowest level of BAC (.08% – .099%) leads to a mandatory one-year license suspension, a maximum of six months in prison, and a fine of up to $2,500, among other penalties.
If you were arrested for DUI of a Controlled Substance or prescription medication, your license could be suspended for up to a year, and you could spend up to six months in jail.
If you are a minor, were driving a commercial vehicle or school bus, refused to take a field sobriety test, were involved in an accident with injuries, or had minors in your vehicle, the fines and penalties increase.
Other DUI Penalties
Losing your license is not the only thing to worry about when you are arrested for a DUI. Depending on your BAC level, you may also face time in prison and heavy fines of up to $10,000.
A first-time DUI offender faces fines of up to $5,000 for a BAC level over .10%. In Pennsylvania, the penalties may differ depending on the amount of alcohol consumed:
- Highest Rate DUIs are with a BAC level of 0.16% or higher
- High Rate DUIs are with a BAC level of 0.10% to 0.159%
- General Impairment DUIs are with a BAC level of 0.08% to 0.099%
Other factors that can influence the severeity of your DUI offense and the resulting penalties include:
- You have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and a BAC of at least 0.04%
- You are a school bus driver with a BAC of 0.02% or higher
- You are under the age of 21 with any level of alcohol in your system
In addition, you may be required to attend rehabilitative programs and Alcohol Highway Safety School (AHSS), perform community service hours, be placed under Ignition Interlock Device requirements, and be subject to a full drug and alcohol assessment.
The AHSS’s objectives are to provide students with a basic knowledge and understanding of alcohol and controlled substances and their effects on metabolism and judgment, as well as alcoholism and drug addiction and highway safety, in order to encourage a positive change in students’ attitudes toward driving while under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, or prescription medication. It’s all in the classroom. The AHSS class does not involve any driving and can usually be completed online.
Possible Sentences for DUIs and DWIs in Pennsylvania
The amount of prior DUI convictions a person has will determine the potential fine and the possible prison sentence. Under the category of general impairment DUIs (BAC .08% – .099%), the possible penalties include:
- Six months’ probation, misdemeanor charge, and a fine of $300 for a 1st
- Five days to six months in jail, misdemeanor charge, one year license suspension, and a $300-$500 fine for a 2nd
- 10 days to two years in prison, 2nd-degree misdemeanor, one year license suspension, and a $500-$5,000 fine for a 3rd
Next, looking at the second or “high rate” DUI category for a BAC of .10& – .159%, drivers could face:
- 48 hours to six months in jail, misdemeanor charge, one-year license suspension, and a $500-$5,000 fine for a 1st
- 30 days to six months jail time, a misdemeanor charge, a $750-$5,000 fine, and a one-year license suspension for a 2nd
- 90 days to five years in prison, a 1st-degree misdemeanor charge, an 18-month license suspension, and a $1,500-$10,000 fine for a 3rd
- One year to five years in prison, a 1st-degree misdemeanor charge, an 18-month license suspension, and a $1,500-$10,000 fine for a 4th
Finally, for third tier, or highest rate DUIs for drivers with BAC over .16%, and for any BAC where the driver refused a substance or chemical test:
- 72 hours to six months jail time, one-year license suspension, and a $1,000-$5,000 fine for 1st
- 90 days to five years in prison, a 1st-degree misdemeanor charge, an 18-month license suspension, and a $1,500-$10,000 fine for a second offense.
- Up to 10 years in prison, a felony conviction (2nd or 3rd degree), an 18-month license suspension, and a fine of $2,500-$$10,000 for a 3rd
Any of these charges can become more severe if the driver holds any specialty license like a CDL, or if there are any other extenuating circumstances.
Winning a DUI in Court
There are several state and county diversion programs that may offer people the opportunity to keep their licenses, stay out of jail, and wipe their records clean (expungement). One such program is the Allegheny County ARD Program or the Allegheny County DUI Alternative To Jail Program.
The DUI lawyers at SMT Legal have successfully argued to have their clients placed into DUI programs that offer an alternative to jail and otherwise negotiated better outcomes.
Defenses can also be argued. For instance, if a police officer does not have reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle and their missteps can be proven, your charges could be dropped completely. Many other scenarios exist in which people arrested for DUI can have their sentencing reduced or their charges dismissed completely.
Defending a DUI and DWI
According to Chapter 38 Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code, a person drives a vehicle when he or she intentionally causes it to move by exercising actual physical control over it. To drive, the individual must move the vehicle. Being in the vehicle with it on is not enough to result in a DUI conviction.
When charged with a DUI, the prosecution must first demonstrate that the defendant was actively driving the vehicle at the time of the charge. It is not always easy to demonstrate. For example, if someone was intoxicated and sitting in the driver’s seat of a car in a parking lot or on the side of the road, they were not driving. The person is not driving if the vehicle is not moving.
The prosecution must also prove that the driver was, in fact, under the influence. One possible defense is to demonstrate that the driver was not under the influence at the time of the arrest or that the police officer did not follow the proper procedure to demonstrate that the driver was under the influence at the time of the arrest. This can be accomplished by demonstrating that testing is inaccurate or that a field sobriety test is not a reliable indicator of whether or not someone is under the influence.
Additional defenses include the legality of law enforcement’s actions (improper stop or invalid checkpoint). In some rare cases, necessity can also be used as a valid defense against a DUI charge. A drastic example of this would be fleeing from someone that may be trying to inflict bodily harm. A skilled DUI attorney can help formulate your defense.
The Impact of DUI or DWI
A DUI conviction in Pennsylvania will remain on your record for life unless it is expunged or granted limited access relief. A conviction will be reflected in your criminal record and credit report, as well as your insurance and driver’s license history because it is a matter of public record.
If you are convicted of DUI in Pennsylvania, your record in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Driver Register (NDR) will be updated to reflect the details of your offense. Financial reporting agencies are also notified and may include this information in your credit history.
As a result, any time a potential employer, landlord, rental agency, or insurance company requests a background check or credit report, the details of your conviction will be revealed.
Expunging a DUI/DWI in Pennsylvania
Under certain conditions, one can have a DUI or DWI expunged. If you entered and successfully completed Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, you can petition to have a DUI expunged. You must apply to be accepted into the ARD program, and if you complete it successfully, your DUI will be dismissed. As a result, there is no conviction. The ARD program may require you to complete a substance abuse program, perform community service, and, if applicable, make restitution to victims – the requirements can vary by county.
To be eligible for a DUI expungement in Pennsylvania, you must meet all of the requirements outlined in Pennsylvania Criminal Statute Section 9122. Even if all requirements are met, there is no guarantee that a court will grant the expungement. Due to the sensitivity and complexities associated with getting an expungement, it is best to hire a criminal defense attorney who focuses on DUIs and DWIs.
What is “Limited Access” to DUI conviction?
Limited Access Orders are court orders that put certain criminal convictions under seal while allowing criminal justice and government agencies access to information about the conviction in question.
Limited Access Orders are a relatively new tool to help with criminal records. On November 14, 2016, the law that established Limited Access Orders went into effect. Prior to that date, the only way to reduce the severity of a misdemeanor criminal conviction was through expungement when the individual reached the age of 70 and had been crime-free for at least the previous five years.
In general, Limited Access Orders apply only to nonviolent and low-level misdemeanor convictions with a maximum sentence of no more than two years. As a result, most ungraded misdemeanors, third-degree misdemeanors, and second-degree misdemeanors are eligible. Ten years must elapse from the date of release from confinement or supervision without any additional arrests or prosecutions for the next ten years to be eligible.
Pittsburgh DUI Lawyers
The Pittsburgh DUI attorneys at SMT Legal have a thorough knowledge of your rights under Pennsylvania law, and we will work rigorously to defend them. We will work with you toward the best option for resolution for you and your family. Our legal team is experienced at taking cases to trial, negotiating a plea, expunging DUI records, and advocating for acceptance into probationary programs for first-time offenders.