It happens too often. You are driving your vehicle after having a drink (or more than one) and suddenly you see the flashing lights of a police car behind you. You’re about to be confronted with a situation that happens to tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians every year. What will happen during the police stop and afterward? How should you handle it? Will you have a criminal record and what will happen to your driver’s license? This article addresses some of those issues.
Driving under the influence (DUI) is far and away the most common reason for arrest every year. In 2021 there were more than 44,000 DUI arrests in Pennsylvania. These situations almost always begin in the manner described above: you get pulled over by the police. If during the vehicle stop, the police observe anything that leads them to suspect you are impaired – like the odor of alcohol/marijuana, red eyes, or slurred speech – they will likely ask if you have been drinking. They can also request you to perform field sobriety tests, which can include walking heel-to-toe in a straight line, closing your eyes, standing on one foot, or other tests to look for signs of being under the influence.
Testing for the presence of alcohol or other substances
If these observations or tests lead the police to suspect you are impaired, they can take you into custody and request that you consent to give a sample of blood, which will then be taken and tested for the presence of alcohol or other substances. DUIs are broken down into three categories based on the result of the blood tests. If you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of between .08% and .1%, that is a Tier 1 DUI, which is the least serious. Any BAC of .1% to .1 59% is categorized as a high BAC (Tier II), and a .1 6% BAC or above is termed the Highest BAC (Tier III). Any controlled substance is automatically a Tier III. Each successive Tier carries higher penalties. Likewise, if the DUI is a second, third, etc. offense it will also involve more severe grading of the offense and higher penalties.
Deciding whether to give a blood sample
The request to provide a blood sample is your first big decision. With apologies to Shakespeare… to consent or not to consent, that is the question. The police can get a warrant for the blood, but ultimately they can’t force you to give the sample. Without a blood sample, it is harder to convict someone of DUI, and very difficult to demonstrate exactly what your BAC is or if you have a controlled substance in your blood. However, if you refuse to consent, it is an automatic 1-year suspension of your license. Additionally, a refusal may affect your ability to get accepted into a diversionary program (such as ARD) and a new law was just passed which can make some DUIs a felony if you are convicted after having refused the blood test.
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)
For many first-time offenders, Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) is available at the discretion of the local district attorney. ARD can provide a path to allow a person
charged with DUI to, under certain circumstances, complete a supervised program in exchange for having the charges dropped and expunged from their record. It also reduces the amount of time a driver’s license is suspended. Generally, for someone convicted of DUI, it will result in a suspension of a year or more. Being accepted into ARD can shorten the suspension down to 60 days or fewer, or even no suspension at all. Each county has its own requirements and prohibitions regarding accepting someone into ARD. For example, York County recently tightened restrictions on people applying for ARD who refused consent to the blood draw, were charged with Tier III, were involved in accidents, or involved certain other criteria.
Recent changes to DUI law
The most recent changes to DUI law resulted from Pennsylvania’s legislature and Act 59 of 2022. “Deana’s Law,” as this act is known, increases the grading for certain DUI offenses, requiring consecutive sentencing for certain repeat DUI offenders, and imposing an 18-month driving privilege suspension for a DUI conviction graded as a felony of the second degree. Under Deana’s Law, if an individual charged with DUI has two or more previous DUI(s), and the new charge involves a refusal of a breath or chemical test or is a TIER III DUI, the new charge can be graded as a felony of the third degree which is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of not more than seven years. Likewise, if the individual has three or more prior offenses, the new DUI can be charged as a felony of the 2nd degree which is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of not more than ten years.
The information in this article is not intended as legal advice. A DUI conviction is a serious matter and can have a myriad of repercussions. If you have questions or are charged with a DUI, CGA Law Firm can assist you.
Liliana G. Fisher
Liliana G. Fisher is a bilingual litigation attorney skilled in managing all phases of legal action from investigation, pleadings, and discovery to pre-trial, trial, settlement, and appeal process. She uses her extensive litigation experience to represent clients in both English and Spanish and is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Before joining CGA Law Firm, Liliana served as a Deputy Trial Prosecutor in the York County District Attorney’s Office.
Read Liliana’s Bio Page in full here.
Stephen R. McDonald
Litigation Law Chair | Shareholder | Attorney
Stephen R. McDonald is Co-Chair of the Litigation Group and a Shareholder at CGA Law Firm and a seasoned litigator who joined the firm in 2017, bringing his wide-ranging background of legal experience to the firm’s Litigation group. Since joining CGA he has been involved in litigation in such diverse areas as automobile and property insurance, real property, construction contracts, estate and inheritance claims among others.
Read Steve’s Bio Page in full HERE.