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What Are the Penalties for First-Time DUI in Pennsylvania?

Some states make driving under the influence (DUI) a traffic violation. In Pennsylvania, DUI is a criminal offense. As such, a DUI conviction can lead to probation, jail time, costly fines, license suspension, and other serious consequences. The penalties for intoxicated driving could be especially severe if the driver were heavily impaired, below the legal drinking age, transporting a minor, or operating a commercial vehicle.

While DUI penalties can be very severe, courts sometimes show leniency for first-time DUI offenders. There might be alternative sentencing options available for offenders with no DUIs on their record within the past 10 years. You can also use your first-time offender status to negotiate for lighter penalties if no alternative options are available.

Our drunk driving defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long can explain the penalties for a first DUI offense in Pennsylvania, including situations where penalties can be enhanced. We can also review some of the factors that impact sentencing for drunk driving. Call our offices at (215) 302-0171 for a free case evaluation to get started.

What Factors Affect a First DUI Sentencing in Pennsylvania?

According to crime statistics published by the Pennsylvania State Police, nearly 2,600 people were arrested for DUI this October alone, a figure that averages out to roughly 84 DUI arrests per day. In an effort to crack down on DUI and reduce drunk driving fatalities, Pennsylvania has adopted a tough set of criminal penalties for driving under the influence. If you have been charged with a DUI, our Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyers can help.

The penalties drivers may face for DUI-related charges can be provoked by something simple like finding empty beer bottles in the operated vehicle. Regardless of what you were charged with, our Philadelphia open container citation defense lawyer will be by your side to help.

Even if it is the driver’s first DUI offense and otherwise has a clean driving record with no criminal history, the judge can still impose harsh consequences. This can be true if you are charged with a DUI as a Drexel student or other university student in the area. The penalties for first-offense DUI depend on many factors, including:

  • The ages of the driver’s passengers, if any.
  • The degree of property damage or injury caused by the DUI, if any.
  • The driver’s age.
  • The driver’s level of impairment.
  • The driver’s status as a commercial vehicle driver, if applicable.

Penalties also increase as offenses accumulate, but this article will focus strictly on first offenses. For legal help while facing the penalties for a second DUI arrest in Pennsylvania, contact our experienced Philadelphia lawyer for multiple DUIs immediately.

Pennsylvania breaks DUI offenses into three categories based on the driver’s level of impairment, which is typically measured by a breathalyzer and expressed as a blood alcohol content (BAC) reading. The higher the level of impairment, the greater the criminal penalties. Our Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys can help you fight your charges at any level. The three possible categories of impairment are:

  1. General Impairment – 0.08% to 0.099%
  2. High BAC – 0.10% to 0.159% (includes minors)
  3. Highest BAC – 0.16% and up (includes drugged driving and breathalyzer refusal)

Minors, or drivers under the legal drinking age of 21, are automatically placed into the “high BAC” category. Even if a minor’s BAC were in the general impairment range, they would be treated as a high BAC driver. However, highest BAC minors remain subject to highest BAC penalties.

Other drivers are automatically placed into the “highest BAC” category, even if their BAC was below 0.16% (or immeasurable). This includes:

  • Drivers are under the influence of controlled substances (drugs), such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, over-the-counter medications, or prescription pills like OxyContin.
  • Drivers who refuse to consent to chemical testing.

Drivers in the general impairment category generally receive the lightest penalties, while highest BAC drivers generally receive the harshest penalties. Our Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys can help you no matter what kind of DUI charges you are facing.

First DUI Penalties in Pennsylvania: Jail, License Suspension, and Fines

Penalties for a first DUI in Pennsylvania are listed below, organized by level of impairment. Remember that minors are treated like high BAC offenders, while drivers who are intoxicated by drugs and/or refuse breathalyzers are treated like highest BAC offenders. It’s important to consult a Philadelphia underage DUI lawyer if your son or daughter was arrested for drunk driving because different legal rules and court procedures apply to juveniles than adult defendants.

  • First DUI, General Impairment
    • Offense Level – Ungraded misdemeanor
    • Sentence – Up to 6 months of probation
    • Fines – $300
    • Other – Alcohol highway safety school, treatment if ordered
  • First DUI, High BAC
    • Offense Level – Ungraded misdemeanor
    • Sentence – 48 hours (2 days) to 6 months in jail
    • License Suspension – 12 months (1 year)
    • Fines – $500 to $5,000
    • Other – Alcohol highway safety school, treatment if ordered
  • First DUI, Highest BAC
    • Offense Level – Ungraded misdemeanor
    • Sentence – 72 hours (3 days) to 6 months in jail
    • License Suspension – 12 months (1 year)
    • Fines – $1,000 to $5,000
    • Other – Alcohol highway safety school, treatment if ordered

Keep in mind that DUI penalties will increase if:

  • The driver is later charged with additional DUIs.
  • Anyone other than the driver is injured.
  • Personal, private, or public property is damaged.
  • The driver had one or more minor occupants in the vehicle.
  • The driver was driving without a license in Philadelphia

To give an example of some potential penalty enhancements, having minor passengers could result in:

  • 100 hours of community service.
  • A minimum fine of $1,000.

Finally, it’s important to note that a driver’s BAC does not necessarily need to reach 0.08% for the person to be arrested and charged with DUI in Pennsylvania. There are at least four situations where it is illegal to operate a vehicle with a BAC below 0.08%:

  1. Minors may not drive with a BAC of or above 0.02%.
  2. Commercial drivers may not drive with a BAC of or above 0.04%.
  3. No one may drive while under the influence of controlled substances.
  4. No one may drive while too impaired to operate a vehicle safely.

If you were arrested for a DUI that caused damage to somebody’s car, home, or other property, contact our Philadelphia defense lawyer for car accidents causing property damage.

Legal Process After a First DUI Charge in PA

Once you are arrested for a DUI, you must submit to chemical testing. If you are experiencing your first DUI arrest, there are a few things you must know. First, chemical testing is required by law. Second, you may be criminally charged for refusing to submit to testing. These charges will be in addition to your other DUI charges and may lead to additional incarceration, fines, and license suspensions. All drivers have impliedly consented to chemical testing by having a license and driving on the roads of Pennsylvania. The police will not force you to submit, but they are required to warn you of the consequences of refusal. After your arrest, call our Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys for help immediately.

You may have a preliminary hearing where the prosecutor must demonstrate that there is enough evidence to warrant holding you for trial. This is not a trial but more like a precursor to your trial. You will have the opportunity to refute the prosecutor’s claims and evidence in the hopes of getting your case dismissed. Keep in mind, Philadelphia follows a different system in which only felonies receive preliminary hearings. Only DUIs charged as felonies would receive preliminary hearings.

Next, you will go through an arraignment. The arraignment is where you are formally and officially informed of the charges against you. You will also be given the opportunity to enter a plea. At this point, the discovery process – the sharing of information and evidence between the parties – begins. Information obtained via discovery will be crucial to your own legal defense strategies.

At this time, your attorney can make pre-trial motions. These motions must happen before your trial starts and may guide the path taken by your case. One common pre-trial motion is for the suppression of inadmissible evidence. For example, if the police physically forced you to submit to chemical testing against your will, the results of those tests can be suppressed and kept out of your trial. All this leads to your trial, where you will be guilty or not guilty of your DUI charges.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Record in Pennsylvania?

A DUI charge will usually remain on your criminal record for life unless it is expunged or granted limited access relief, as discussed below. It is important to remember that a DUI is on your criminal record and your driving record. These two records are independent of one another. If you manage to have a DUI wiped from one record, that does not necessarily mean the other is wiped clean too.

Criminal records are difficult to clear. Pennsylvania does not permit misdemeanors or felonies to be expunged, and there might be very limited other options available. Even death does not clear your criminal record. According to 18 Pa.C.S. § 9122(b)(2), a person must be dead for three years for their criminal record to be expunged. However, DUIs may be expunged through your county’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program.

An expungement, if granted, would eliminate the charges from your criminal record, but DUIs remain on your driving record for 10 years in accordance with Pennsylvania’s 10-year lookback policy. Under this policy, only previous DUIs from the last 10 years are considered when determining charges and penalties for new DUIs. In a sense, a DUI only remains in your driving record for 10 years. If you want to wipe your record clean of your DUI charges, speak to our Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys about your case.

How Do I Dismiss a DUI in PA?

Different states have different criteria for expunging criminal convictions from your records. Pennsylvania takes a somewhat harsher approach and forbids the expungement of all offenses other than summary offenses. Summary offenses are minor and are often graded below misdemeanors.  Because DUIs are often charged as misdemeanors or felonies, they cannot be expunged in the traditional way. However, DUIs can be expunged through the ARD program mentioned above. The program places greater focus on treatment and recovery rather than punishment. It should be noted that each program’s precise rules and procedures may vary by county.

ARD may last for a minimum of 6 months, although it is common for defendants to be in ARD for up to 1 year. However, you could potentially be in the ARD for a maximum of 2 years. The duration and conditions of ARD will depend on the needs of your case. Many defendants are required to enter alcohol treatment, and their license is suspended for a while. The good thing about ARD is that defendants do not typically see the inside of a jail cell.

If you complete all your ARD requirements, your DUI charges will be dismissed, and you can expunge your arrest from your record. If you fail, your charges will be reinstated, and you will be prosecuted for DUI. ARD is typically the only way to wipe a DUI from your record as misdemeanors and felonies cannot be expunged by standard procedures. Contact our Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys for assistance if you were recently arrested for a DUI and want to enter the ARD program.

Philadelphia DUI Lawyer Offering Free Consultations on Drunk Driving Charges

Our Philadelphia criminal lawyers and DUI defense lawyers for Temple students and other college students can work to mitigate the consequences of your DUI charges. Our Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys have lowered penalties for first-time drug possession in Pennsylvania. For a free case review, call our law offices at (215) 302-0171.