If you are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), you likely have a lot of questions about what might happen to you. Will you have to appear in court? Will you have to go to jail? Will you lose your license? While every case is unique and you should speak to an experienced DUI defense lawyer regarding your specific case details, below we answer some frequently asked questions about DUI charges in Philadelphia.
Can an officer randomly request a breath test for alcohol during a traffic stop?
No, it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for a police officer to request a breath test at random without reason. An officer must stop you on suspicion of a traffic law violation, such as speeding or running a red light. Once the officer has contacted you, he or she must observe your actions for 20 minutes before requesting a breath test, and he must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that you are intoxicated.
Some of the behaviors that an officer considers when determining whether you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs include:
- Slurred speech
- Watery or bloodshot eyes
- The smell of alcohol in your vehicle
- Open alcohol containers inside the vehicle
Is it legal to refuse a breath test for suspected DUI during a traffic stop?
Pennsylvania’s implied consent law means that if licensed to drive in the state, you offer implied consent to breath, blood, and urine testing if an officer has reason to believe that you are driving while impaired. You can refuse to submit to a breath test, but you should be aware that doing so comes with consequences. Even if you aren’t later convicted of DUI, you still may face a license suspension of up to one year for your refusal, and up to 18 months if you refuse the test and have a previous DUI conviction.
What is the legal limit for impairment from drugs in Pennsylvania?
Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by either alcohol or drugs. To convict an individual of driving under the influence of alcohol, the prosecution must establish impairment through a chemical test within two hours from when the individual last operated a vehicle; however, there is no two-hour rule for Schedule I, II, or III controlled substances. The officer just must present evidence that a minimum amount of drug metabolites were present in the individual’s body at the time of the arrest. The minimum levels that must be present to prove impairment are:
- 10 nanograms for amphetamine, methamphetamine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and monoacetylmorphine (heroin)
- Five nanograms for marijuana or phencyclidine (PCP)
- 20 nanograms for cocaine
Drug testing is done not only to test the amount of the metabolite that a person has in their blood, but also the concentration and quantity of the drug that is present in the body. However, someone can be convicted of a DUI even if the amount of the drug does not exceed the legal limit based on the officer’s testimony that the individual was unable to safely operate a motor vehicle at the time of the arrest.
Can I challenge the results of a chemical test that indicated I was driving over the legal limit for alcohol?
Yes. There are a number of reasons why a chemical test, used as a legal presumption of impairment, can give a false positive result. Your DUI defense attorney will consider a number of factors that may have caused an incorrect result, including errors with how and when the test was conducted, as well as possible errors with the equipment or the lab that conducted the testing.
Could my medical issue have been the cause of a false BAC reading?
Yes. Some medical issues have been known to give false Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) readings or to raise an officer’s suspicion of impairment, including:
- Acid reflux
- Kidney problems
- Ketosis, which is suffered by individuals with diabetes or those following a strict low-carb diet
- Neurological issues, which won’t give a false reading but could cause suspicion due to slurred speech and the perception of disorientation
- Allergies, which also won’t give a false reading but may produce watery or bloodshot eyes (another sign of impairment)
The officers didn’t read me my Miranda rights when they arrested me. Is that an issue?
Yes. Officers are required to read an individual his or her Miranda rights upon arrest. These rights include the right to remain silent and the right to speak with an attorney. If you invoke any of these rights, then the officer must stop questioning you immediately. If the officers violate your Miranda rights, then all of the information that they gather during the questioning will be inadmissible as evidence.
Are there harsher penalties for DUI if your BAC is at a higher level?
Yes. Generally, the higher your blood alcohol content, the stiffer the penalties that will accompany a DUI conviction. Pennsylvania has a 3-tiered system for DUI offenses; penalties are lesser for general impairment (BAC levels from .08 to .099 percent) than they are for high impairment (BAC levels of .10 t .159 percent). Cases that involve the highest impairment, of .16 or above, carry the harshest penalties.
Are there harsher penalties if I have been previously convicted of DUI?
Yes. Just like higher levels of BAC result in harsher penalties, you will likely face more severe consequences if you’ve previously been convicted of DUI. The difference in the penalties ranges from a few hundred dollars and the possibility of a few days in jail to several thousand dollars and several years in prison.
What can a defense attorney do for me?
A defense attorney will work to protect your rights throughout the entire process—from arrest to court and any subsequent appeals. Your attorney will also look for ways to have the charges dropped or greatly reduced and will provide thoughtful guidance regarding your legal options.
When should I contact a lawyer?
If possible, you should contact an attorney immediately after you’ve been arrested. This will ensure that your lawyer protects your rights from the start of the process. Regardless of where you are in the legal process, you should retain an attorney as soon as possible, if you haven’t already.
Call The Zeiger Firm if You Face a DUI in Philadelphia
Despite the seriousness of a DUI case, there are many opportunities to mount a defense. Let our experienced legal team use our knowledge and experience to help you. For a free consultation and case evaluation, call the Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0340 or contact us online.