Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a serious criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Anyone accused of DUI should realize that this is a serious matter, which can cost you your drivers license, a lot of money, and possibly your freedom.
You will need the services of a criminal defense attorney, who can explain the process to you, explore your options, and come up with a plan to deal with the charge.
THE CRIMINAL PROCESS IN A DUI CASE
In most cases, a person arrested for DUI will be tested for blood alcohol content. Tests can be performed from blood, breath or urine samples: most Central Pennsylvania Police Departments use blood testing. If the Defendant refuses to be tested, he or she can still be prosecuted for DUI, and will be subject to an additional period of license suspension.
Most DUI Defendants will be released by the arresting officer; a Criminal Complaint will then be filed, and a Summons (notice to appear) will be sent to the person by certified mail. In some cases, there is a delay, while the officer waits to receive the results of the blood test.
The next step is a preliminary hearing. In Pennsylvania, the purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence to require the Defendant to stand trial. Preliminary hearings are held in District Courts. Almost every case is then held over for further action in the Court of Common Pleas. Many criminal defense lawyers will waive the preliminary hearing, particularly if the Defendant is applying for ARD, or plans to enter a guilty plea.
After the preliminary hearing, further proceedings take place in the Court of Common Pleas. Prior to trial, Defendants have the right to file various pretrial motions, and to seek discovery – learning what evidence the prosecution has. Many cases are resolved either by admission to the ARD program, or a plea of guilty. If the Defendant pleads not guilty, a trial will be scheduled. First offenders, and some second offense cases are tried by a Judge, without a Jury: other cases are entitled to a Jury trial.
WHAT DO THEY NEED TO PROVE TO FIND SOMEONE GUILTY OF DUI?
In Pennsylvania, the law prohibits driving, or being in control of a motor vehicle, in four circumstances:
After drinking a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the driver is rendered incapable of safe driving;
After drinking a sufficient amount of alcohol such that their blood alcohol level is at least 0.08% (.02% if under age 21 or driving a school bus, .04% if driving a commercial vehicles), taken within two hours after driving;
If under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs and alcohol, to a degree which impairs the individual’s ability to safely drive; or
If the driver is under the influence of any amount of a drug which has not been medically prescribed for them.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR DUI IN PENNSYLVANIA?
In Pennsylvania, criminal sentences are given with a minimum and a maximum length. The minimum is when the Defendant is first eligible for parole, and the maximum is the longest time that a Defendant can be incarcerated, or on parole. The law has become complicated enough that you will need to sit down with a criminal defense attorney to review the facts, and learn what the possible penalties are.
DUI sentencing in Pennsylvania depend on several facts: whether it is a first, second, third or subsequent offense, the blood alcohol level, and whether the offender is under the age of 21. A second or third offense is based on any offense committed within 10 years of the date you were convicted, or accepted ARD for the prior offense. Cases where the Defendant has refused to undergo testing, or which involve drugs are treated the same as those involving the highest levels of blood alcohol.
There are mandatory minimum jail sentences for all DUI offenses – the only exceptions are for persons accepted into ARD or an alternative sentencing program, and for adults with blood alcohol levels between .08% and .10%. These sentences range from 2 days to as much as a year. This has resulted in some repeat offenders being sentenced to state prison. Even longer penalties could apply if a death or serious injury occurred as a result of a DUI.
In addition to any jail time, there will be a license suspension, which may range from 6 months to 18 months. The suspension can be reduced for persons admitted to the ARD program. DUI is expensive: there is a fine, court costs, and fees for things such as highway safety classes, and community service.
These programs exist to alleviate some of the harshness which results from being convicted of DUI. The terms of the programs may vary from County to County: you should consult an experienced DUI lawyer to determine which programs you might be eligible for.
ARD stands for accelerated rehabilitative disposition. This program is intended for first offenders, and is not limited to DUI cases. To be accepted into ARD, the District Attorney’s approval is required. Usually, the Defendant’s attorney will assist in making the application.
A person accepted into ARD will not stand trial, and will not enter a guilty plea. Instead, he or she will be placed on probation for a period of time, required to attend driver safety classes, and do community service. If they complete the probation successfully, the criminal charges will be dismissed. This means that the person will have no formal criminal record, although the charge will appear on your driving record, and the District Attorney keeps a record, so that the same person is not admitted into the program a second time. There is a license suspension, but the time period is shorter than if you were convicted.
ARD can be revoked if you fail to complete the program, or violate a program rule. If your ARD is revoked, your case will be reinstated, and you will then need to either stand trial, or enter a guilty plea.
IP – DRUG COURT
IP stands for Intermediate Punishment program. This is an option in some cases after a person has been found guilty of DUI. This program reduces the period of incarceration, substituting a period of electronic monitoring (house arrest), and drug and alcohol treatment.
In Blair County, there is also a DUI Court. This is used for the most serious repeat offenders. After periods of incarceration, and electronic monitoring, the person is subject to intensive supervision over an 18 month period, which includes bi-weekly court review sessions.