Driving drunk or under the influence of drugs can result in serious consequences, from expensive fines to losing your license. It is important to be educated on what to expect if you are charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Here are the top 10 things you need to know about a DUI in Pennsylvania.
1. You should know the basics of the DUI Process
The DUI process usually starts with being pulled over by a police officer. Usually, the officer notices that you are swerving or otherwise driving erratically and has reasonable suspicion to assume that you may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The officer then assesses the situation with a field test and may demand that you take a chemical test. There are two types of chemical tests: a blood draw at the hospital and a breath test using a breathalyzer.
Sometimes, people think that if they refuse the chemical test that there is no way to prove that they were under the influence. This is a common misconception, because not only is it likely that you will still lose your license, but refusing the test could potentially add an additional year to the loss of your license. There are several ways a police officer can still prove guilt without the test, such as their observation of your appearance at the time. Police often use terms like “bloodshot eyes,” “odor on the breath” and “slurred speech” which can help prove that you were not capable of safely driving.
Driving under the influence isn’t always just alcohol or illegal drugs, but it can also refer to other substances that have the ability to impair your driving abilities, such as legal prescription drugs or even over-the-counter medications.
2. Pennsylvania has mandatory jail sentences
Pennsylvania has mandatory jail sentences for those who are convicted of a DUI, even if it is a first offense. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to jail. There are alternative programs in place that may allow for lesser sentences, such as: Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) and Intermediate Punishment Program (IPP).
In Pennsylvania, a DUI charge is rated under different tiers and they are based on the chemical test results:
- Tier 1: BAC .08% – .99%
- Tier 2: .10-.159%
- Tier 3: over .160% or if the person has drugs in his or her system or refuses chemical testing
The more alcohol a person has in their system, the more severe of a penalty it is. It is even more severe if there is more than one DUI in a 10 year period.
3. You need an attorney
It doesn’t matter if it is your first DUI offense, it is extremely important to have an attorney because a DUI is a criminal offense. If convicted, a DUI will stay on your record without the possibility for expungement. However, a lawyer may be able to get you into an alternative program such as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). This program is specifically for first time offenders.
- Potential benefits of ARD
- No jail time
- Reduced license suspension
- Ability to have the arrest record expunged
Admittance into the program is at the sole discretion of the District Attorney’s office. With an experienced attorney by your side, you can rest assured that he or she will negotiate your application on your behalf.
An attorney can also evaluate the circumstances surrounding your arrest and determine whether any constitutional rights were violated. Just because someone is charged with a DUI does not necessarily mean that the person is guilty of a DUI. A skilled attorney will review the police report and any lab results to look for any deficiencies or inconsistencies with what has been presented in the charges.
Make sure the attorney that you choose specializes in DUIs. It is important to choose someone who is local and understands Pennsylvania DUI laws, which are different than other states.
If you are low-income and unable to afford a private lawyer, you may meet the requirements to have a public defender assigned to you. Public defenders are usually experienced in DUI cases, but they also have large caseloads.
4. You will have to appear in court
After your initial DUI arrest, you will have to appear in court on a specified date and time. It can be a humiliating experience to have to appear in court with the public in attendance. The charges will be read to you and you will have to plead guilty or not guilty. It is important to have an attorney representing you in court.
5. Your license will most likely be suspended
Almost all DUI convictions result in a license suspension for some period of time. However, if it’s a first time offense within a 10-year period AND the BAC level was at or below .099%, then there is no license suspension.
6. There may be options for a limited license, even with a suspended license
In some cases, you may be eligible to apply for an Occupational Limited License (OLL), also referred to as the bread and butter license in Pennsylvania. This license allows you to drive under certain conditions, like going to and from work.
7. You will pay a hefty fine
Every DUI conviction will result in court fees and penalties. Fines for a DUI in Pennsylvania could range anywhere from $500 to $5,000 depending on the circumstances. The cost is more expensive for multiple offenses.
8. You may be able to settle your case before trial.
In reality, most DUI cases never make it to trial and that is because they often take a deal offered by the prosecutor. Many times these deals include pleading guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence. Additionally, your attorney may find loopholes in the case that could cause the charges to get thrown out completely.
9. You may have to go to drunk driving school
In order to get your driving abilities reinstated, you may required to go to drunk driving school. These classes educate you about drunk driving prevention and offer an assessment of your drinking habits.
10. Your car insurance rates will likely be raised
When you are convicted of a DUI, your insurance company will eventually find out that information. Drunk drivers are at a huge risk to insurance companies, so you will be given a special policy with inflated rates for a certain period of time. Many times these rates are double or triple the cost of a normal premium.
When you retain an experienced criminal defense attorney from DiCindio Law, you might be able to secure a more favorable disposition to the charges against you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling 610.430.3535 or by submitting your information through our online contact form.