FAQ: Pennsylvania Drunk Driving Charges

Harrisburg Defense Lawyers: Drunk Driving Charges

The following are answers to frequently asked questions about Pennsylvania's driving under the influence laws. For straightforward answers and sound legal advice regarding your DUI case, please call the experienced defense attorneys of Caldwell & Kearns in Harrisburg at 877-490-6665 for a free consultation.

Pennsylvania's Driving Under the Influence Law

Q: What is the legal limit?

A: The legal limit in Pennsylvania is 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC).

Q: What are the penalties for a DUI?

A: The penalties for a DUI offense vary depending upon a number of factors. These include the number of prior DUI offenses, the level of the offender's blood-alcohol content, and whether there was an accident with injuries or property damage in connection with the charges.

First time offenders generally are eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Program (ARD), as discussed below. A first-time offender who does not elect or is ineligible for ARD will face the following penalties: If the offender's blood-alcohol level is between .08 and .099, and there is no accident with injuries or property damage, there is no suspension of driving privileges. The offender will receive a maximum of 6 months probation and a $300.00 fine, attend highway safety school, and drug and alcohol treatment if deemed necessary after an evaluation.

If the offender's blood-alcohol level is between .10 and .160, the offender will receive a minimum of 48 hours imprisonment, a minimum $500.00 fine, and a 12-month license suspension along with the highway safety school and drug and alcohol evaluation and treatment.

If the offender's blood-alcohol level is .16 or higher, the offender will receive a minimum of 72 hours of imprisonment, a minimum $1,000.00 fine and a one-year license suspension in addition to the highway safety school and drug and alcohol evaluation and treatment. The penalties for this "highest tier" also applies to those convicted of a DUI who refused to take a blood-alcohol content test, or were under the influence of a controlled substance, or were intoxicated when involved in an accident that caused injury or property damage to another. If the offender was involved in an accident that caused serious bodily injury or death, the mandatory penalties are much more severe and include substantial imprisonment time.

Q: What is ARD?

A: ARD is a program for first time offenders whereby the offender can avoid a criminal conviction, imprisonment, and a lengthy license suspension. If accepted into ARD, the license suspension will only be 30 or 60 days, depending upon the offender's blood-alcohol content. In some limited circumstances, there is no license suspension. The ARD program generally requires the offender to successfully complete alcohol counseling, DUI classes, community service, and probation. Each county has its own rules regarding an offender's eligibility for admittance into the ARD program. Even if you are feel you are clearly eligible for ARD, an attorney is highly recommended. Some counties will accept into the ARD program an offender with a prior DUI if there is only one prior DUI disposition and if the prior DUI occurred more than ten years ago. Whether prior non-DUI criminal dispositions will make an offender ineligible for ARD really depends on the county's policy and other factors. DUI offenders who are ineligible for ARD include those with a prior criminal record or prior ARD disposition within the past 10 years, or where the current DUI offense involved an accident with serious bodily injury or death.

Q: What if I refused the blood-alcohol content test?

A: A refusal of a blood-alcohol content test is a mandatory one-year license suspension in Pennsylvania. In addition, the offender could still be prosecuted for driving under the influence of alcohol if there is sufficient evidence that the driver was incapable of safe driving. The refusal itself is evidence that will be introduced against the offender. A person who refuses a blood alcohol test and is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol may lose his or her license for two years: one year for the refusal and a consecutive one year for the DUI conviction.

Q: If I refuse the blood-alcohol content test, can I still enroll into the ARD Program?

A: Yes, if you qualify and there was no accident with serious injuries. If accepted into ARD, you will lose your license for 60 days in addition to the one-year suspension for refusing the test.

Q: What if the police officer contends that I refused a blood-alcohol test when I really did not?

A: You should contact an attorney immediately. The police officer's determination that you refused the blood-alcohol test can be challenged in court by filing an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas. The filing appeal must be filed within 30 days of the date of the suspension notice triggered by the refusal.

Q: If I refuse the blood-alcohol content test, is there any way I can avoid the one-year license suspension by pleading guilty or asking for acceptance into the ARD Program?

A: Generally, no. PennDOT has an obligation to impose the one-year license suspension for the refusal regardless of the outcome of the case. However, if you contact an attorney quickly enough after your arrest, the attorney may be able to help. It is the arresting law enforcement officer's responsibility to notify PennDOT that you refused the blood alcohol test. If contacted prior to mailing the notification, some police officers will refrain from notifying PennDOT in exchange for your promise to plead guilty or seek admittance into the ARD Program. While some police department policies prevent such agreements, in my experience, many police officers are cooperative in this regard as they recognize the fundamental unfairness of a possible double suspension.

Q: What if I am a first-time offender but not eligible for ARD?

A: The penalties are discussed above. If your blood alcohol level was 0.10 or above, there is a mandatory one year license suspension. However, after serving 60 days of your license suspension, you may be eligible for a special work-related license.

Q: Can I get a license to go to and from work or school during a license suspension for a DUI or refusal?

A: Yes, but only in limited cases. For first time DUI offenders, an occupational limited license (a/k/a Bread and Butter license) is available after 60 days of a one year suspension. For second time offenders who receive an 18 month license suspension, an occupational limited license may be available after the first 12 months of the suspension period. An occupational limited license is not available during the entire term of a one year suspension resulting from refusing breath or blood testing.

Q: What are the penalties for repeat offenders?

A: An offender who had a prior DUI within the previous 10 years will not be eligible for the ARD Program. The license suspension will range from 12 to 18 months and imprisonment from 30 to 90 days, depending upon the offender's blood-alcohol content level. Third or subsequent offenders could face up to one year in prison in addition to a license suspension as high as 18 months. In addition, the offender may be required to install the ignition interlock device on his or her vehicle. The ignition interlock device requires the driver to provide an alcohol free breath into the instrument in order for the vehicle to start.

Q: If I have to go to prison, I will lose my job. What can I do? Can I get house arrest, instead of prison time?

A: If you are facing a prison term, you should be eligible for the work-release program. Work-release allows the offender to leave the prison/work-release center as needed for employment purposes. Some counties allow the prison term to be served on house arrest with electronic monitoring. Whether your case qualifies really depends on the county where the offense occurred, and, in some counties, the particular judge that your case is assigned.

Q: How soon should I call a lawyer after I have been arrested for DUI?

A: You may not be officially notified whether you have been charged with a DUI until you receive a summons in the mail. This usually occurs one to four weeks after your arrest. Nonetheless, it is best to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after your arrest, especially if you refused breath testing.

Q: What if the police officer contends that I refused a blood-alcohol test when I really did not?

A: You should contact an attorney immediately. The police officer's determination that you refused the blood-alcohol test can be challenged in court by filing an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas.

Q: A police officer informed me that a blood-alcohol level registered above a 0.08. I know that cannot be right. What can I do?

A: Breath and blood tests are not always accurate. Mistakes are made. Breath and blood test results can be excluded from evidence if proper procedures were not followed in the administration of the test. Further, results can be excluded if the testing equipment was not properly tested periodically for accuracy in accordance with state-wide regulations. An experienced attorney can examine these issues on your behalf.

Q: I need an attorney. What should I do?

A: You need an experienced attorney who will give you honest answers. Call the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, offices of Caldwell & Kearns at 717-743-1682 today to set up an appointment. You can also e-mail us now for a prompt response.