Getting convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) can impact your life in many different ways. Even if you don’t face jail time (although jail time is mandatory for a second or subsequent offense), you will face steep financial penalties; and, from getting a job to getting a loan, it will make many things much more difficult. As a result, if you have been charged with DUI in Pennsylvania, you need to fight your charge by all means available.
In court, the prosecution has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If prosecutors cannot prove that you were driving under the influence, then you are entitled to a “not guilty” verdict regardless of the underlying facts of your case. So, what does it take for prosecutors to prove a DUI charge in Pennsylvania?
Understanding Pennsylvania’s Complicated DUI Laws
Under Pennsylvania’s DUI law, prosecutors can prove their case in two different ways. They can prove that you were impaired due to alcohol consumption, or they can prove that your blood alcohol concentration was 0.08% or above. Section 3802(a) of the Pennsylvania Statutes states:
“(1) An individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the individual is rendered incapable of safely driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle. . . . [or] after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the alcohol concentration in the individual’s blood or breath is at least 0.08% . . . within two hours after the individual has driven, operated or been in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.”
If we break Pennsylvania’s DUI statute down into its individual “elements,” we can see exactly what prosecutors need to prove in order to secure a conviction in court. The elements of a DUI in Pennsylvania are as follows:
- Driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle; and,
- Imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that you are rendered incapable or such that your BAC is 0.08% or above within two hours of driving, operating, or being in actual physical control.
Driving, Operating, or Being in Actual Physical Control of the Movement of a Vehicle
In Pennsylvania, you don’t actually need to be driving in order to be found guilty of DUI. Section 3802(a) also makes it illegal to be under the influence while operating or in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle.
How is operating or being in actual physical control different from driving? Let’s say you were sitting in a parking lot or on the side of the road with your engine running. While you might not be “driving” in this scenario, a judge may still find that you were “operating” your vehicle since it was running. Or, let’s say you are sitting in the passenger seat and you grab the wheel, causing the car to swerve and resulting in a traffic stop. As a passenger, you clearly aren’t driving, but you could still be found in “actual physical control” given that you caused the car to swerve.
When a DUI defendant wasn’t clearly driving at the time of his or her traffic stop, judges in Pennsylvania examine the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether the defendant was operating or in actual physical control of a vehicle. Even minor differences in scenarios can warrant different outcomes, so it is important to work with an experienced Philadelphia DUI lawyer to make sure you assert an effective defense.
Imbibing Such That You are Rendered Incapable or Your BAC is 0.08% or Above
If you were driving, operating, or in actual physical control of your vehicle, then the next question is whether you were “under the influence” as defined by Pennsylvania law. Under Section 3802(a), prosecutors can either prove that you were under the influence by presenting evidence of your incapability or by presenting evidence of your BAC.
Rendered Incapable of Safely Driving, Operating, or Being in Actual Physical Control
If your consumption of alcohol rendered you incapable of safely driving, operating, or being in actual physical control of a vehicle, then you can be found guilty of DUI regardless of your blood alcohol concentration. Thus, you can face a DUI conviction in Pennsylvania even if you refused a breath test, your BAC reading was below 0.08%, or your BAC reading is unreliable.
Aside from BAC, there are several ways that prosecutors can seek to prove that a driver (or passenger) was under the influence. Some examples of evidence prosecutors may seek to introduce in court include:
- Dash camera or body-worn camera (BWC) footage
- The arresting officer’s testimony regarding the movement of your vehicle
- The arresting officer’s testimony regarding your appearance
- The arresting officer’s testimony regarding your performance on the field sobriety tests
- Any statements you made to the arresting officer
Your BAC is 0.08% or Above Within Two Hours
Conversely, even if there is no evidence whatsoever that you were actually impaired, you can face a DUI conviction in Pennsylvania if your BAC was 0.08% or above. This is known as a “per se” DUI, which means that you are guilty simply as a result of having a BAC over the legal limit.
As Section 3802(a) states, the police have up to two hours to test your BAC. If your BAC was between 0.08% and 0.10%, you can be charged with “general impairment” and face the associated penalties. If your BAC was between 0.10% and 0.159%, you can face enhanced penalties for a “High BAC” DUI; and, if your BAC was 0.16% or above, you can face even greater penalties for a “Highest BAC” DUI.
Schedule a Free Consultation with Philadelphia DUI Lawyer Brian Fishman
While there are a variety of ways that prosecutors can prove a DUI charge in Pennsylvania, there are also several defenses to DUI charges under Pennsylvania law. To find out what defenses you may be able to assert in your case, call 267-758-2228 or request a free consultation with Philadelphia DUI lawyer Brian Fishman today.