New Pennsylvania DUI Bill Addresses Repeat Offenders

New Pennsylvania DUI Bill Addresses Repeat Offenders

As a DUI attorney located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I know new laws are routinely being proposed and enacted to strengthen Pennsylvania’s stance on driving under the influence (DUI). In 2018, a bill is making its way through the Pennsylvania state legislature that aims to target people who violate DUI laws that result in terrible consequences or those who repeatedly violate the DUI laws. Senate Bill 961 passed out of the Transportation Committee with unanimous support and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Why Has a New Repeat Offender Law Been Proposed in Pennsylvania?

Senator John C. Rafferty announced his intent to introduce the legislation in January 2017, citing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics that attributed 10,228 deaths in 2010 to drunk drivers. This figure would account for 31% of all traffic deaths in 2010. Rafferty also noted DUI offender’s tendency to be repeat offenders – meaning those who are convicted of a DUI have likely been charged previously or will be charged again. In his co-sponsorship memoranda, Rafferty stated, “I believe Pennsylvania law should reflect the enhanced risk a repeat offender poses to the public and increase the grading of the offense of Vehicular Homicide while DUI where a defendant has been given one or more bites of the apple for the most serious kinds of traffic violations.”

Rafferty also cited an April 2012 incident where Robert Landis, who had 7 previous convictions for DUI, turned in front of Liam Crowley’s motorcycle, killing Crowley. Landis’ blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.28. Despite his prior convictions, Landis faced the same 3-year minimum sentence that a first-time DUI offender in would have faced.

What is the Legal BAC limit in Pennsylvania?

In September 2003, Act 24 was signed into law and lowered Pennsylvania’s legal limit of alcohol from .10 to .08. However, not everyone is treated as a member of the general public.

  • A commercial vehicle driver is considered legally impaired when driving with a BAC of .04 or greater.
  • School bus drivers are considered legally impaired when driving with a BAC of .02 or greater.
  • People under 21 are considered legally impaired when driving with a BAC of .02 or greater.

What is the Penalty for DUI in Pennsylvania?

Laws enacted since 2003 have tiered the penalties for DUI in Pennsylvania, taking into consideration a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) and prior offenses. The laws have attempted to focus on treatment and rehabilitation for first-time offenders to decrease the rate of repeatedly impaired drivers. However, a first-time offender who causes property damage, injures someone, is a minor, is a commercial driver, is a school bus driver, or refuses a breath or chemical testing may be subject to the highest BAC penalties.

There are currently three levels of DUI:

  • General Impairment (.08-.099 BAC)
  • High BAC (.10-.159 BAC)
  • Highest BAC (.16 and above BAC)

Here are the penalties for the three impairment levels and considering prior DUIs:

General Impairment penalties:

 
No prior DUI
  • ungraded misdemeanor
  • up to 6 months’ probation
  • $300 fine
  • alcohol highway safety school
  • treatment when ordered
1 prior DUI
  • ungraded misdemeanor
  • 12-month license suspension
  • 5 days to 6 months jail time
  • $300 to $2,500 fine
  • alcohol highway safety school
  • treatment when ordered
  • 1-year ignition interlock
2 or more prior DUIs
  •  2nd degree misdemeanor
  • 12-month license suspension
  • 10 days to 2 years prison
  • $500 to $5,000 fine
  • treatment when ordered
  • 1-year ignition interlock

 

High BAC penalties:

 
No prior DUI
  • ungraded misdemeanor
  • 12-month license suspension
  • 48 hours to 6 months prison
  • $500 to $5,000 fine
  • alcohol highway safety school
  • treatment when ordered
1 prior DUI
  • ungraded misdemeanor
  • 12-month suspension
  • 30 days to 6 months prison
  • $750 to $5,000 fine
  • alcohol highway safety school
  • treatment when ordered
  • 1-year ignition interlock
2 or more prior DUIs
  • 1st degree misdemeanor
  • 18-month license suspension
  • 90 days to 5 years prison
  • $1,500 to $10,000 fine
  • treatment when ordered
  • 1-year ignition interlock
3 or more prior DUIs
  •  1st degree misdemeanor
  • 18-month license suspension
  • 1 to 5 years prison
  • $1,500 to $10,000 fine
  • treatment when ordered
  • 1-year ignition interlock

 

Highest BAC penalties:

 
No prior DUI
  • ungraded misdemeanor
  • 12-month license suspension
  • 72 hours to 6 months prison
  • $1,000 to $5,000 fine
  • alcohol highway safety school
  • treatment when ordered
1 prior DUI
  • 1st degree misdemeanor
  • 18-month license suspension
  • 90 days to 5 years prison
  • $1,500 to $10,00 fine
  • alcohol highway safety school
  • treatment when ordered
  • 1-year ignition interlock
2 or more prior DUIs
  • 1st degree misdemeanor
  • 18-month license suspension
  • 1 to 5 years prison
  • $2,500 to $10,000
  • treatment when ordered
  • 1-year ignition interlock

 

License suspensions are imposed as follows:

  • BAC below .10% and incapable of safe driving: No suspension for a first offense if the driver meets certain criteria; 12-month license suspension for a second or subsequent offense.
  • BAC of .10% to .16%: 12-month license suspension for a first and second offense. 18-month suspension for a third or subsequent offense.
  • BAC of .16% or higher: 12-month license suspension for first offense. 18-month suspension for a second or subsequent offense.
  • Out-of-state DUI convictions: No suspension for a first offense; 12-month license suspension for a second or subsequent offense.

It is possible with a first offense DUI that you may be eligible for an occupational limited license (OLL). Drivers whose licenses are suspended for 18 months and one or no prior offense may be eligible for an OLL with an ignition interlock after serving 12 months of the suspension. First-time underage drinkers may also be eligible for an OLL.

What if you Refuse a Breath or Blood Test?

Pennsylvania has Implied Consent law. Implied Consent means that anyone driving in Pennsylvania (not just those with a Pennsylvania license) agree to submit to a chemical test of their blood, breath or urine if an officer of the law suspects that they are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drivers who refuse the test can have their license suspended for 1 year.

How Will the New DUI Law Change Penalties in Pennsylvania?

Senate Bill 961 has been introduced to strengthen DUI penalties. The current draft of the bill, which has not yet been passed into a law, provides for the following:

  • Increases the minimum jail sentence for Homicide by Vehicle while driving under the influence from three years to five years if the person has one or two prior DUI’s, and from three to seven years if the person has more than two prior DUIs. Jail terms would run consecutively for each victim, consistent with the current laws.
  • Expands the Crimes Code to add a presumption of recklessness or negligence when a person committing a fourth or subsequent DUI within 10 years causes the death of another person and allows for that individual to be charged with third-degree murder.
  • Increases the grading for a third DUI offense with high levels of alcohol or drugs from a misdemeanor of the first degree to a felony of the third degree. Increases the grading for all fourth and subsequent DUIs to a third-degree felony.
  • Increases sentencing provisions for Homicide by Vehicle, Aggravated Assault by Vehicle, and Aggravated Assault by Vehicle while driving under the influence when the individual committing the offense is not properly licensed or under suspension.

What to do if you have been charged with driving under the influence in Pennsylvania?

As detailed in this article, there are varying forms of penalties for driving under the influenced based on the circumstances of the offense. However, given the compounding nature of DUIs in Pennsylvania, it is critical that you have knowledgeable criminal defense legal counsel to advise you and advocate for your rights. It is imperative that you consult with an experienced DUI attorney in Philadelphia immediately after your arrest. Contact our office today for a free consultation and to review your rights and potential penalties for your DUI arrest in Philadelphia.