The Driving Under the Influence (DUI) lawyers at the Philadelphia, PA law firm of The Zeiger Firm have many years of experience fighting DUI cases. Our attorneys have fought Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases involving both alcohol and drugs throughout Pennsylvania. If you have been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, contact the Pennsylvania and criminal defense attorneys at The Zeiger Firm. Our attorneys understand that driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a very serious offense, one that can affect every aspect of your life. A DUI conviction will generally result in a suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, involves possible time in jail, and may affect your employment. In addition, if you were charged with driving under the influence and were in an accident, you may be sued and your auto insurance may be canceled. That is why you need an attorney who understands all of these issues and will zealously represent you against these charges. At The Zeiger Firm, we aggressively defend persons charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and can explain your rights.
Pennsylvania DUI Law
A person arrested under Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code for driving under the influence will generally be involved in two cases. First, there is the criminal case. If found guilty, a person may face jail time, fines, mandatory alcohol education programs, and the loss of driving privileges. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) will try to take away a person’s driver’s license in a separate action.
Under Pennsylvania’s DUI law, the punishment for a DUI depends upon whether it is a first, second, or third conviction, and is also based on a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. Punishment under Pennsylvania’s DUI law is divided into three levels, one for people who drive with blood alcohol content from .08 to .099%, another for blood alcohol levels from .10 to .159%, with the most severe punishment for persons with a BAC level higher than .16%.
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania lawyers at The Zeiger Firm understand the various drunk driving laws, rules and procedures and regularly represent clients charged with driving under the influence. We understand how a DUI conviction can change a person’s life, never forgetting that our most important goal is obtaining the best results for our clients, whether that means fighting procedural battles or representing our clients before a judge or jury. We work hard for our clients, explaining their options and keeping them updated about the status of their cases.
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania attorney to represent you against charges of driving under the influence, contact The Zeiger Firm, who represent every client zealously in order to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at 215-546-0340 or send us an email via the form below.
DUI Traffic Stops
The 4th Amendment prevents law enforcement officers in the United States from simply stopping and detaining people whenever they want for no reason at all. In order for police to pull you over lawfully, they must have a reasonable suspicion that you have violated a law in some way. The officer does not have to believe that you have been drinking, they just need to suspect that you have violated any traffic law. This means that if you fail to signal or are driving without your lights on at night, that can be reason enough for an officer to initiate a traffic stop. Once you are stopped, the officer can then make observations on whether or not you have been drinking.
Police officers cannot, however, simply pull over cars randomly in hopes of catching a drunk driver. If an officer pulls you over for no particular reason, that traffic stop is illegal and in violation of your 4th Amendment rights. If an officer cannot demonstrate any reasonable suspicion of a crime prior to a traffic stop, any evidence resulting from that traffic stop can be thrown out of your case.
For example, imagine an officer pulls you over and has no reasonable suspicion that you have broken the law. The officer then smells an odor of alcohol on your breath and a breath test shows that your BAC is over the legal limit. The officer places you under arrest, takes your license, and impounds your vehicle. Your attorney can then argue that due to an unlawful traffic stop, any of the officer’s observations of your impairment or breath test results should be suppressed and may not be used against you. Without this evidence, the prosecutor will likely have no other way to convict you, so your charges will likely be dropped.
An experienced defense attorney will be able to identify when a traffic stop was illegal and use it to have your case dismissed. This can be a difficult task, as an officer will often try to come up with some way to justify a traffic stop – even if the stop was actually unlawful. At The Zeiger Firm, we know how to use 4th Amendment violations in your defense whenever possible.
Pennsylvania Implied Consent Law
Many people believe that if they are stopped and suspected of driving under the influence, they can simply refuse to participate in a breath test and there will be no evidence of their BAC. However, it is important to realize that there are consequences for refusing a breath test in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has an implied consent law, which means that if you are licensed and you drive in Pennsylvania, you have impliedly consented to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test if you are lawfully detained by an officer who has probable cause to believe that you are impaired. An officer must observe you for at least 20 minutes before performing a breath test, though any chemical tests must be completed within two hours of the time you were last driving.
If an officer lawfully requests that you submit a breath, blood, or urine sample, you should know that there are specified consequences if you refuse. An officer should warn you of these consequences at the time of their request. Specifically, your driver’s license will be suspended for a period of time based on your refusal – even if you are not later convicted of DUI. The following is the license suspension periods in Pennsylvania for refusal to blow:
- First offense = One year
- Second or subsequent offense = 18 months
- Refusal with a previous DUI conviction = 18 months
You will have a hearing based on your refusal to submit to a breath test. At this time, you may be able to receive limited driving privileges – such as to attend work or school – if you agree to have an ignition interlock device installed on your car. Still, this can be inconvenient and costly and will be in addition to any consequences if you are convicted of DUI.
Refusing a breath test does not mean that you cannot be convicted of drunk driving. A BAC reading is a major piece of evidence in many DUI cases but it is not the only evidence used by prosecutors. Without chemical test results, prosecutors can still use the officer’s testimony that they witnessed signs of intoxication during the traffic stop. Such observations can include:
- Slurring of words
- Watery or bloodshot eyes
- Smell of alcohol
- Open containers in the vehicle
Much weight can be given to an officer’s observations even without a breath test showing you were over the legal limit. A refusal can then mean that you face the penalties for both a DUI and for refusing to participate in the test.
If you refused to take a chemical test, you need a defense lawyer who knows how to handle this part of your case in addition to your actual DUI charges. The Zeiger Firm can represent you in all aspects of your DUI case and all related charges.
Challenging Chemical Tests
If you do agree to a breath or blood test and the test reports that your BAC is over the legal limit of 0.08%, it does not necessarily mean that you will automatically be convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. While a chemical test does create the legal presumption that you are intoxicated, these tests are not infallible. There are different ways that a skilled defense lawyer can determine whether the test results were inaccurate for some reason.
The following are some examples of reasons why a breath or blood test may be unreliable:
Officer error – There are specific procedures that law enforcement officers must follow to ensure the accuracy of chemical test results. For example, as mentioned above, they must conduct a test after 20 minutes of observation and within two hours of you driving your car. If the officer conducts a breath test too early, the test may measure mouth alcohol, which can significantly increase BAC results. If an officer waits too long, the test will not give an accurate representation of your state while you were driving. If an officer mishandles equipment or does not conduct the test properly, it can result in a false positive result.
Equipment error – Equipment used for breath tests must be regularly maintained and calibrated in order to give an accurate reading of your blood alcohol content. If a breathalyzer is not calibrated correctly or is otherwise defective, the reading will not be reliable. An experienced attorney can look at law enforcement records to determine whether a piece of equipment has been calibrated or not.
Forensic lab error – When you give a blood sample for a BAC reading, that sample must be processed by forensic lab technicians. There are many errors that forensic labs can make that can render a test result unreliable. For example:
- Storing a blood sample at the wrong temperature
- Allowing a sample to become contaminated
- Incorrectly labeling a sample
- Mixing up samples
- Allowing unqualified people to handle the sample
- Waiting too long to test the sample
- Not properly recording test results
- Using equipment that is defective or not calibrated to test the sample
Even if a sample is properly tested, there is still a margin of error in every type of scientific testing. If your BAC reading is close to 0.08%, the margin of error may mean that it is possible your BAC was truly under the legal limit. Your attorney can argue against the presumption of impairment in such cases.
Law enforcement departments should always be held accountable if they made errors during DUI testing. Our legal team will explore the possibility that your chemical test results may be inaccurate and will use it in your defense strategy whenever possible.
Other DUI Defenses
Arguing that your traffic stop was unlawful or that a chemical test result is inaccurate are only two ways to defend against a DUI charge. Some other common defenses can include:
- Medical issues – There are numerous medical or physical conditions that can not only give the false appearance of intoxication but can also result in false BAC readings. Acid reflux can cause mouth alcohol, which can cause an inflated BAC reading. Kidney problems can also lead to an increased BAC result. Ketosis – which is common among people with diabetes or who follow a strict low-carb diet – causes glucose to ferment in the bloodstream, which can both an odor similar to alcohol on the breath, as well as a false BAC result. Neurological conditions and brain injuries can cause slurred speech and the appearance of disorientation, as can fatigue. Allergies or similar issues can cause bloodshot or watery eyes. These are only some examples of medical conditions that may be presented in a DUI defense to combat the allegation that you were under the influence of alcohol.
- Improper communications by authorities – After an arrest, police officers are required by law to inform a defendant of their Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent and the right to be represented by an attorney. If a defendant invokes these rights, police are not allowed to try to interrogate an arrestee until an attorney is present. If an officer does question someone in violation of their Miranda rights, a defense attorney can argue that any answers or confessions to being intoxicated should be thrown out of court. If an officer does not properly inform someone of their Miranda rights, any information gathered after an arrest should also be kept out of evidence. In addition, prosecutors often try to get a defendant to plead guilty without the presence of their defense counsel. They have many tactics they can use to convince a defendant to agree to a guilty plea that would not be allowed by a defense attorney. Such guilty pleas may be set aside so you have a chance to truly defend against your DUI charges.
- Challenging officer testimony – In order to use an officer’s observations as evidence, a prosecutor must put the arresting officer on the stand and have them attest to the events of the traffic stop and the arrest. Often, police officers make multiple DUI arrests each week and the details of each stop can run together. If an officer cannot correctly testify as to what happened during your traffic stop or their observations, this is unreliable evidence. A defense attorney can cross-examine police officers to identify any inconsistencies in their testimony or any gaps in their memory that can cast doubt on their testimony.
The particular defenses available for a DUI defendant will vary depending on the circumstances of each case. At The Zeiger Firm, we will evaluate each case individually and identify all possible ways to defend against your charges. Please contact our office so that we can begin building your defense today.
DUI Penalties in Philadelphia
As discussed, there are different tiers of DUI laws and penalties in Pennsylvania based on your alleged BAC.
General impairment – 0.08 to 0.099 percent:
- First offense = ungraded misdemeanor charge, $300 fine, up to six months on probation, attendance at alcohol safety classes, possible court-ordered treatment
- Second offense = ungraded misdemeanor charge, $300 to $2,500 fine, five days to six months in jail, license suspension for one year, ignition interlock for one year, attendance at alcohol safety classes, possible court-ordered treatment
- Third offense or more = second-degree misdemeanor, $500 to $5,000 fine, ten days to two years in prison, license suspension for one year, ignition interlock for one year, possible court-ordered treatment
High BAC – 0.10 to 0.159 percent:
- First offense = ungraded misdemeanor charge, $500 to $5,000 fine, two days to six months in jail, license suspension for one year, attendance at alcohol safety classes, possible court-ordered treatment
- Second offense = ungraded misdemeanor charge, $750 to $5,000 fine, 30 days to six months in jail, license suspension for one year, ignition interlock for one year, attendance at alcohol safety classes, possible court-ordered treatment
- Third offense = first-degree misdemeanor charge, $1,500 to $10,000 fine, 90 days to five years in prison, license suspension for 18 months, ignition interlock for one year, possible court-ordered treatment
- Subsequent offenses = first-degree misdemeanor charge, $1,500 to $10,000 fine, one to five years in prison, license suspension for 18 months, ignition interlock for one year, possible court-ordered treatment
Highest BAC – 0.16 percent or higher:
- First offense = ungraded misdemeanor, $1,000 to $5,000 fine, 72 hours to six months in jail, license suspension for one year, attendance at alcohol safety classes, possible court-ordered treatment
- Second offense = first-degree misdemeanor charge, $1,500 to $10,000 fine, 90 days to five years in prison, license suspension for 18 months, ignition interlock for one year, possible court-ordered treatment
- Third offense or more = first-degree misdemeanor charge, $2,500 to $10,000 fine, one to five years in prison, license suspension for 18 months, ignition interlock for one year, possible court-ordered treatment
As you can see, penalties for multiple offenses or for higher BACs can be particularly harsh. Many people believe that they cannot afford a DUI defense attorney and instead try to handle their cases on their own. However, a strong and effective defense can reduce the penalties you face and can often save you money in the end – not to mention helping you avoid jail time and a conviction whenever possible.
Court-ordered penalties are far from the only potential consequences of a DUI conviction. For instance, a conviction can affect your job in different ways. First, if you drive as part of your job, having your license suspended or having an ignition interlock device requirement can make it impossible to perform your job. In this situation, there are ways your attorney can argue for a hardship license or for an exception to the ignition interlock requirement for your work vehicle.
Even if your license is not suspended, your employer may have a policy that they do not employ drivers who have DUI convictions. Such policies can also keep you from getting jobs in the future. Additionally, a DUI conviction – especially multiple convictions – can prevent you from obtaining or keeping a professional license. Insurance costs can also go up extensively for a long period of time following a DUI conviction. These are only some of the many collateral consequences of having a conviction on your record.
Avoiding DUI Convictions
Because the penalties increase with each additional DUI conviction, it is always best to avoid having any convictions whenever possible. First, a DUI defense attorney will identify any constitutional violations or mistakes made by law enforcement, as well as any other applicable defenses that may lead to a dismissal in your situation.
Even if it is not possible to get your charges dropped, a defense attorney can see if you qualify for any pre-trial diversion programs for DUI defendants. These programs require you to abide by certain requirements – similar to probation – for a period of time. Once you complete the program, the court can dismiss your case and no conviction will be entered against you. This is commonly available for first-time DUI offenders in Pennsylvania.
A defense attorney can also negotiate a favorable plea deal with prosecutors. If you agree to plead guilty, the prosecutor may agree to a suspended sentence, which can help you avoid a conviction at the end of your probation period.
Finally, if you have been wrongfully accused of DUI, a skilled trial attorney can present evidence of your innocence or otherwise challenge the prosecution’s case to seek an acquittal at trial. Criminal trials have very specific procedures and rules of evidence. It is imperative that you have a lawyer who knows how to comply with all of these rules, as well as identify when the prosecutor is violating the rules and object in a proper manner.
When Should You Call a DUI Defense Attorney?
We have discussed many ways that a criminal defense law firm can help in your DUI case. However, we cannot help you if you do not contact us regarding your case. When you are arrested, you can invoke your right to have an attorney represent you at any time. It is never too soon to call The Zeiger Firm so we can begin ensuring that your rights are protected. You should never speak to the police without proper legal representation and our attorneys can represent your rights as a defendant.
We can begin investigating your arrest and the evidence against you right away so we can explore every possible option for your defense. We fully understand the criminal justice process and all applicable laws in Pennsylvania and we provide defense representation you can trust. Please do not hesitate to call our office as soon as you can after you are arrested on suspicion of DUI or any other type of criminal offense.
Find Out How The Zeiger Firm Can Assist You
Being arrested for driving under the influence can be a frightening event. Many of us know people who have faced DUI charges and it may not seem like that big of a deal as a result. However, it is important to recognize just how significantly a DUI conviction can affect many aspects of your life.
Anyone facing a DUI charge should know that there are many opportunities to defend against these charges and ensure you receive the most favorable outcome possible. However, it is important that you contact a qualified criminal defense law firm as soon as possible after an arrest. Doing so can often significantly reduce your penalties or help you avoid a conviction altogether.
At The Zeiger Firm, we have witnessed people trying to defend themselves who could have possibly received a much better result if they had an experienced DUI defense lawyer on their side. We are ready to defend our clients in any way possible, so please do not wait to call our office to discuss how we can help you. Consultations are free so you have nothing to lose by contacting our law firm today.