DUI seems like a fairly straight-forward offense: Were you driving? If so, were you under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time? However, it is not nearly that simple. There are so many intricacies in what at first blush appears to be an easily understood offense. It is important that you have an experienced Philadelphia DUI attorney review your case and the allegations against you before making any decisions on how to proceed. Philadelphia DUI attorney Brian M. Fishman has both prosecuted and defended hundreds of DUI cases.
Initiation of a DUI Charge in Philadelphia
The majority of DUI cases begin when police initiate a traffic stop and pull you over. You could be stopped on suspicion of DUI based on a radio call or because you were driving in a reckless or careless manner such as weaving between lanes, drifting, speeding or running a red light. However, more often than not, the stop is for some innocent reason such as a failure to put on your turn signal or expired inspection stickers. Police approach the car and claim to smell a strong odor of alcohol or marijuana emanating from you or the vehicle. Sometimes they say they even see an open container of alcohol or a half smoked joint inside the car. At that point, police will ask the driver to step out of the car.
If stopped on the highways around the Philadelphia metropolitan area, a state trooper may perform field sobriety tests to make a determination regarding whether to arrest on suspicion of DUI. Philadelphia police officers are not trained to conduct such tests. Instead, if they suspect you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they will immediately transport you to the PDU, also known as “The Roundhouse” where you will meet with an AID (Accident Investigation Division) Officer. One of the best defenses to a DUI is to challenge the officer’s reason for stopping you in the first place. If the initial stop is invalid, all observations and chemical testing completed thereafter must be suppressed or excluded from your trial, therby crippling the prosecution’s ability to prove its case against you.
Breath or Blood Testing in Philadelphia
The police must conduct a breath test within two hours of the initial arrest or the results of that test may be deemed inadmissible in court. An AID officer will read you the Implied Consent Law, which states that all drivers agree to submit to a breath or blood test if suspected of DUI. However, a suspect still has the right to refuse any chemical testing. Whether you agree to be tested or refuse, the police are almost assuredly going to arrest you for DUI. If you refuse, police view that as an admission of guilt. That is, if you are not willing to be tested, it must be because you know you will fail.
If you are tested and you blow above the .08 BAC limit, you will be arrested and charged with DUI. And, even if you blow slightly below the legal limit, you may also be arrested as police will say that your careless driving is proof of impairment and your levels were likely higher at the time of the stop. At trial, the Commonwealth can try to introduce “relation back” testimony through a chemist to demonstrate what your BAC was at the time of the stop in relation to when the test was administered. Police generally only request blood tests if there is suspicion of drug use based on the smell of marijuana or recovery of narcotics from the vehicle. Despite the above inference that police and the prosecution will try to draw from a refusal, many choose to refuse for other reasons and those can be explained at trial. However, all drivers must be aware that regardless of the outcome of the criminal matter, your driving privileges will likely be suspended by PennDOT for one year simply for the refusal to submit to chemical testing. Finally, there are many ways to challenge the accuracy of the Breathalyzer machine and the manner in which the test was conducted as well as the timing of the breath or blood test in relation to your stop.
Just as the issue of whether you receive a Breathalyzer, are asked to submit to blood testing or refuse any chemical testing is an intricate issue in any DUI, the question regarding whether you were driving is also not a clear cut one in every case. But, despite the crime’s titled, the prosecution does not need to prove “driving”. It needs to prove that you were in “actual physical control” of the vehicle. This has a broader definition than driving. For example, if you are sleeping in your car on a cold winter night and you are sitting in the driver’s seat with the car on, there is a strong argument that you are legally in “actual physical control” of the vehicle. However, you may be sleeping in the driver’s seat of your car but have the keys in your pocket and this may not be considered “actual physical control”. Also, where you are parked may affect the analysis. If you are in a parking lot and not on a public road, you may not be legally driving the vehicle under Pennsylvania DUI law. What about a car accident? If you are not in your car when police arrive or you are not on the scene, can they prove you were driving? There are so many factual scenarios and only an experienced DUI attorney knows how to defend against them all.
Consequences of a DUI in Pennsylvania
While a DUI, assuming nobody is injured as a result, is always graded as a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, the consequences are extremely serious. Even for a first offense, there is almost always mandatory jail time. The below chart provides you with more detailed information regarding the mandatory minimums based on your blood alcohol level, the drugs in your system, whether you refused chemical testing and whether you have been convicted of DUI previously in the past 10 years. But, the collateral consequences are also extremely serious. If convicted of DUI, you are subject to a license suspension which can cause you to lose your job or be unable to find future employment, substantial costs and fines, installment of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle, requirements to complete drug and alcohol treatment, completion of alcohol safe driving classes and much more.