Impaired driving is a national problem. Although trending slightly downward from 2016, in 2017 45,656 arrests took place in Pennsylvania for driving under the influence (DUI).

According to the Criminal Justice Information Services division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), in 2016 police arrested more than one-million drivers for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Despite these sobering statistics, a fact sheet on underage drinking published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that a survey among high school students found that in the 30 days prior to the survey date:

  • 30 percent drank some amount of alcohol
  • 14 percent binge drank
  • 6 percent drove after drinking alcohol
  • 17 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol

The Story Behind Pennsylvania’s Alcohol Laws

When Prohibition was nationally repealed in 1933, the governor of Pennsylvania at the time, Gifford Pinchot, called a special session of the General Assembly and formed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for the purpose of making drinking alcohol as “inconvenient and expensive as possible.”

Prohibition has been the only constitutional amendment ever repealed, and Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws still reflect former Gov. Gifford Pinchot’s intended purpose. Accordingly, the state has a monopoly on the sale of distilled spirits.

Pennsylvania Takes DUI Seriously

Pennsylvania’s penalties and fines for DUI are divided into three classifications based on the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the driver, listed below:

  1. General Impairment BAC: 0.08 percent to 0.099 percent
  2. High BAC: 0.10 percent to 0.159 percent
  3. Highest BAC: 0.16 percent and over (or if under the influence of a controlled substance)

Depending on whether the charge is a first, second, or third (or more) offense, those convicted of driving under the influence can expect to receive the following:

  • Jail time: Five days to five years
  • Fines: $300 to $10,000
  • License suspension: One year to 18 months
  • Mandatory alcohol highway safety school
  • Mandatory alcohol and drug treatment
  • Ignition interlock system for one year

Those drivers who do not submit to blood alcohol tests may face additional penalties, even if a first offense.

Punishment for Underage DUI in Pennsylvania

The standard for an underage driver is much stricter than a driver who is of legal drinking age. A driver under the age of 21 only needs to have a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher to receive a DUI conviction. Minors convicted of a DUI can expect the following:

For a first offense, the mandatory minimum sentence is:

  • 48 hours in jail
  • $500 fine
  • 12-month license suspension
  • Alcohol safety school and any alcohol/drug treatment program that the court deems necessary

For a second offense, the mandatory minimum sentence is:

  • 30 days in jail
  • $750 fine
  • 12-month license suspension
  • Alcohol safety school and any alcohol/drug treatment program that the court deems necessary

For a third offense, the mandatory minimum sentence is:

  • 90 days in jail
  • $1,500 fine
  • 18-month license suspension
  • Alcohol safety school and any alcohol/drug treatment program that the court deems necessary

One Bad Choice Does Not Have to Define Your Future

Since the 1980s, Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program has been giving select first-time offenders the opportunity to remove the DUI conviction from their criminal records. Participation in this program allows offenders to avoid a conviction, and their criminal records are expunged after satisfactory completion of all requirements.

Only first-time DUI offenders are eligible for the ARD program, and admission into the program is not automatic. Prosecutors make the decision of whom to accept into this diversion program; however, there are certain situations that automatically prevent eligibility. A driver will not be accepted if:

  • The offense caused a serious injury
  • The offense resulted in an accident that caused a fatality
  • There was a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle

The ARD program requirements are based on an evaluation of the details of each individual case and the blood alcohol level of the driver. Typically, a participant must complete:

  • Alcohol highway safety classes
  • Possible counseling
  • Community service
  • Fines
  • Probation

Following an Arrest for Underage DUI

The best advice for anyone, especially a young person under the age of 21, if stopped by law enforcement for suspected DUI, is to remain calm, be polite, and ask to speak with an attorney. In theory, once a driver is stopped an investigation has begun. Everything an individual says or does could end up in a police report. Nothing good will come from being rude, combative, or defiant.

Remember, being cooperative does not mean that a driver must answer any alcohol-related questions. If there are obvious signs of alcohol consumption (bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, the smell of alcohol), it is more than likely that police will arrest the stopped individual. No matter how old the driver is, it is within his or her rights to ask to speak with an attorney before answering any questions.

Collateral Implications of an Underage DUI

There are 173 colleges in Pennsylvania, and while not all of them are likely to have a code of conduct, many of them likely have a code of conduct similar to the ones at Penn State and at Lehigh, which concern alcohol consumption by underage students. A DUI conviction may result in a student facing suspension or expulsion, and it could also jeopardize scholarship or loan money.

A criminal conviction is a public record, and a DUI is a stigmatized crime. Society may impose collateral consequences on young people found guilty of DUI. Insurance rates may increase significantly, and potential employers may be hesitant to hire someone with a criminal record.

The Importance of Legal Representation

When dealing with underage DUI charges in Pennsylvania, an aggressive and experienced attorney, like Brian Zeiger, is a defendant’s best defense against charges that can have lifetime consequences.

At the Zeiger Firm, our Philadelphia DUI defense firm can evaluate your case and determine all of your viable legal options to secure the best possible outcome for you and your family. Do not risk facing serious underage DUI charges without skilled legal counsel.

The legal team at the Zeiger Firm is specifically trained to deal with the constitutional issues and legal defenses associated with juvenile legal matters, including underage DUIs. Call the Zeiger Firm today at (215) 546-0340, or contact us online, before things get out of hand.

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