Legal Process For DUI In Pennsylvania


In Pennsylvania a person who is stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs faces various charges with tiers of severity depending on what and how much is in their system. For a person who has been drinking and is contending with a charge of driving while intoxicated (DWI), the measure of blood alcohol content (BAC) will determine what kind of punishments they will have to contend with.

For example, a person who registers between 0.08% and 0.099% BAC for a first offense will face penalties under the General Impairment level. If the BAC is between 0.10% and 0.159%, the penalties are under High BAC. If the BAC is between 0.16% or higher, it is the Highest BAC. When a person is charged with DUI and has used a controlled substance and not alcohol, he or she will be charged under the level of Highest BAC.

What happens at the DUI stop

If a law enforcement officer has reasonable cause to believe that a driver is committing a DUI, the vehicle will be stopped for an investigation. The officer will request to see the driver’s license, proof of insurance and registration simultaneously examining the driver to search for telltale signs of impairment such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and the smell of alcohol.

If the officer still believes there is a possible DUI occurring, the driver will be asked to take field sobriety tests such as Walk and Turn, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, and the One Leg Stand test. A driver is not required by law to take the field sobriety tests and can politely decline. The driver is, however, required by law to take a Breathalyzer test to determine the BAC if the officer has cause to request one be taken. In Pennsylvania, the BAC is determined by breath, blood or urine. While in the field, the officer will give a Breathalyzer test.

A driver is required to take this test because of implied consent that when he or she is driving, the tests must be taken when asked to do so by a law enforcement officer. Drivers are often under the mistaken belief that they have a right not to take the test. It is not true. Not taking the test when asked to can result in a charge of Refusal which carries with it penalties that are separate from a DUI charge. In the event that the driver has not been drinking and refuses to take the Breathalyzer test, there will still be a charge of Refusal and accompanying penalties. A first offense conviction will result in a driver’s license suspension of one year. If there have been prior Refusal offenses or a DUI conviction in the past, the driver will face an eighteen month driver’s license suspension. Refusing won’t even prevent the officer from making the arrest if there is sufficient cause to believe that the driver is intoxicated, so it won’t do any good at all to refuse.

If the driver registers a BAC of 0.08% or higher or the officer believes that the driver is under the influence of a controlled substance, there will be an arrest for DUI.

Process following an arrest for DUI

When contending with a charge of DUI, a driver will have to go through the legal process and it is important to have an attorney to assist the defendant in navigating the case to search for mistakes the officer might have made, holes in the prosecution’s case, or the possibility that there will be a willingness on the part of the prosecution to agree to a plea bargain.

Following the arrest, first there will be a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is the first part of the case and the prosecutor representing Pennsylvania will present evidence that the driver committed the infraction in question and that there is justifiable reason for the case to move forward.

Subsequent to the preliminary hearing will be the arraignment. This is scheduled between one and two months after the preliminary hearing except in cases in which the driver was charged with DUI and and is still in police custody. If that is the situation, the arraignment must be held between 48 and 72 hours after the arrest. If the driver is released on his or her own recognizance or posts bail, notice will be given as to when the arraignment is scheduled. The judge will list the laws the driver is alleged to have broken and a plea will be entered. A guilty plea will result in a sentence and a not guilty plea will mean a trial is necessary.

Before trial, the case will have pretrial hearings. These are updates as to the status of the case. Any issues regarding the case will be heard during pretrial hearings and if there is the chance for a plea bargain, it can be negotiated and agreed to so the defendant and prosecution can avoid trial. In Pennsylvania there is a program known as ARD—Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. ARD allows a driver to enroll in rehabilitation and treatment programs in lieu of jail time. It has certain conditions the defendant must meet, but it is a reasonable option that a defendant and the defense attorney should consider prior to going to trial.

Prior to trial, there will be motion hearings. It is at motion hearings when the defense attorney will bring up factors that might be cause for the case to be dismissed such as the stop being made without reasonable cause, the field sobriety tests being conducted in an unfair manner, or the Breathalyzer test being faulty. The defense attorney will have the opportunity to question witnesses and try to have evidence excluded, to bolster a potential plea bargain, or to have the case dismissed entirely.

At trial, it is likely that the judge will be the finder of fact meaning that there won’t be a jury trial. There are only jury trials in certain instances such as when there is a history of DUIs or the driver is charged with a BAC of 0.16% or higher.

Following the trial, there will be a judgment of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will impart a sentence. With a DUI charge, the sentence can include driver’s license suspensions, jail time, significant fines, the requirement to attend classes to learn the danger of DUI, and treatment options. Depending on the level of BAC, the penalties will vary in severity.

After the trial is concluded, the defendant has a right to appeal a verdict. This must be done within a certain timeframe or the right to appeal will be waived.

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