In Pennsylvania, there were 1,137 fatal vehicle crashes in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 314 of these deaths, alcohol impairment played a role—28 percent of the total. Across the U.S., there is one death every 50 minutes from a crash related to alcohol impairment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you have been arrested on a driving under the influence (DUI) charge in Philadelphia or its suburbs, you may have questions to ask your lawyer. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions we receive.
What Penalties Can I Face in a DUI?
In Pennsylvania, all penalties depend on the blood alcohol content (BAC) you allegedly had while driving. Penalties can include fines, probation or jail time, driver’s license suspension, mandated treatment, and the requirement that an ignition interlock device (IID) be placed in your vehicle. These devices make your car impossible to drive if they sense alcohol.
Pennsylvania has a three-tier system for DUI offenses. The penalties become more severe the higher the BAC rises. They also become more severe for a second and third offense. DUI convictions remain on a driver’s record for 10 years in Pennsylvania. In other words, if you are convicted of a DUI this year and were convicted in 2011 as well, it will count as a second offense. Treatment can be court-ordered for all offenses.
There are three levels of impairment: (1) general impairment, if a BAC is from 0.08 percent to 0.099 percent; (2) high BAC, if the readings are 0.10 percent to 0.159 percent; and (3) highest BAC, if the readings are 0.16 percent or above.
Under general impairment, you can be charged with a misdemeanor. The penalties are a $300 fine, up to six months of probation, and going to alcohol safety classes.
For a general impairment second offense, you’ll be charged with an ungraded misdemeanor. You can be fined from $300 to $2,500, receive a jail sentence of five days to six months, have your license suspended for a year, have an IID placed on your car for a year, and be mandated to attend alcohol safety classes.
If you are convicted of a third offense, it will be a second-degree misdemeanor, and result in a fine of $500 to $5,000, 10 days to two years in prison, a suspended license for one year, and an IID for a year.
For your first offense under a high BAC, you’ll be charged with an ungraded misdemeanor, carrying a fine of from $500 to $5,000. Jail time can range from two days to six months. Your license can be suspended for one year, and you will be ordered to attend alcohol safety classes.
The second offense carries an ungraded misdemeanor charge as well, but the fines rise to $750 to $5,000. Jail time can be from 30 days to six months. License suspension lasts for one year. You may have an IID for one year and will be mandated to attend alcohol safety classes.
A third offense is a first-degree misdemeanor with a $1,500 to $10,000 fine and a possible 90 days to five years in prison. Your license can be suspended for 18 months and you can have an IID for 18 months.
For subsequent offenses, the fines and license suspensions are the same, but the potential jail time rises to one to five years.
The first offense under the highest BAC is an ungraded misdemeanor with a $1,000 to $5,000 fine, 72 hours to six months of jail time, license suspension for one year, and mandatory alcohol safety classes.
The second offense is a first-degree misdemeanor with a $1,500 to $10,000 fine, 90 days to five years in prison, license suspension for 18 months, and IID for one year.
The third offense and subsequent offenses are first-degree misdemeanors with fines of $2,500 to $10,000, one to five years in prison, license suspensions for 18 months, and IID for one year.
Can I Refuse to Take a Breathalyzer?
Pennsylvania has an implied consent law. Simply put, this means that by obtaining a driver’s license and driving, you have implicitly consented to a breath, blood, or urine test if a police officer has probable cause to believe you are impaired by alcohol consumption.
Probable cause can include signs of alcohol impairment, such as slurred speech or weaving while walking or driving. It can also include seeing alcohol in your vehicle if you were stopped for a traffic or driving violation.
Under the law, police officers must observe you for 20 minutes before administering a breath test. All chemical tests need to be done within two hours of the time you last drove.
Some people are tempted to refuse a Breathalyzer or other test, thinking that if there are no test results, there will be no evidence. However, if you refuse any breath, blood, or urine test, there are penalties. Your driver’s license will be suspended for one year in a first offense and for 18 months in a second or subsequent offense. If you refuse a test and have a previous conviction for DUI, it will also be suspended for 18 months.
Can I Be Convicted Without a Breathalyzer Test?
Yes. You can be convicted of a DUI whether a Breathalyzer or other chemical test is given to you or not. A police officer can also testify that your actions indicated alcohol impairment. Here, too, stumbling or slurring your words, having alcohol in the vehicle, the smell of alcohol on your breath, or other physical signs can all be heard as evidence.
If you are convicted of a DUI without a chemical test, you can receive penalties for both the DUI conviction and refusing to take a chemical test.
What Are Some Defenses Against a DUI?
If you are charged with a DUI, your lawyer may employ many possible defenses, depending on the circumstances. Here are some of the most common defenses.
Inaccurate Test Results
Breathalyzers and other chemical tests don’t always produce reliable results. The officer may have administered it incorrectly or administered it before the 20 minutes of observation or after the two-hour limit. The equipment can become unreliable if not maintained or calibrated properly. Forensic laboratories can also make mistakes in storing and testing the blood.
Several medical and physical conditions can cause a police officer to assume you are impaired by alcohol when you’re not. Several, like acid reflux or ketosis, can cause one’s breath to smell like alcohol. Kidney problems can cause false readings. Some neurological conditions and brain injuries can cause slurred speech or poor mobility, which can be seen as signs of alcohol impairment, but are not. People with allergies may have watery or bloodshot eyes.
Improper Communications by Law Enforcement
While making an arrest, law enforcement authorities must advise the arrestee of their Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to be represented by an attorney. You cannot be questioned by police if you invoke these rights, until a lawyer comes.
If you have not received your Miranda rights or a police officer questioned you once you invoked them, the court might throw out a confession to a DUI or incriminating answers.
Incorrect Officer Testimony
While officers can testify to your condition and the events that transpired when you were stopped and arrested, they can be interrogated by your attorney in court. Your attorney may be able to find inconsistencies in their testimony or other evidence than they are not remembering and testifying correctly.
Pleading Guilty to a Lesser Offense
It is also possible to plead guilty to a lesser offense than a DUI. If you are accused of a traffic accident or violation that is alcohol-related, for example, you can plead guilty to a charge known as a wet reckless.
Discuss all these and other questions in more detail with a lawyer. If you need further information or assistance, contact a licensed attorney.