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Summary of DUI Law & Procedure in PA | Introduction
The purpose of this article is to offer a general overview to Pennsylvania DUI law. It is not intended to be a “how to guide.” The content is based on knowledge gained from Lampman Law’s DUI practice in northeastern and central Pennsylvania. Accordingly, aspects of the article may not pertain to other areas of this Commonwealth. Further, while it is intended to be accurate it is not designed to be a scholarly work or a legal treatise.
Moreover, this article is not legal advice and should not be treated as such. As with any information found on the Internet, this article may not be current with changes in the law. When the law changes, we are too busy analyzing the new rules and applying the new law to our cases to timely update this website. Therefore, instead of relying solely on this article, you should be consulting with a lawyer. Anyone facing DUI charges should discuss their case with an experienced criminal defense / DUI lawyer that practices law within the jurisdiction prosecuting the case.
DUI Law & Defense is Complex
As a criminal defense lawyer, I have represented individuals accused of charges throughout Pennsylvania’s crimes code, including; first-degree murder involving DNA evidence, complex theft cases, computer crimes, corrupt organization conspiracies, and major drug prosecutions, including drug deliveries resulting in death. Nevertheless, some of the most complicated cases I have defended have been DUI cases.
DUI cases are routinely complex because they almost always involve evidence that is reliant on science and technology to establish an accused driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). These cases are also complicated because they involve special legal rules, analysis and procedures. For example, DUI cases usually involve the police testing a suspected driver’s coordination through standard field sobriety tests (SFSTs), such as horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the one-leg stand, and the nine-step walk-and-turn. In DUI controlled substance case, additional coordination tests are often performed by police or special trained officers who are drug recognition experts (DRE).
Moreover, like with any criminal case, knowing the statutory and case law is only part of the equation to defending a DUI case. It is also essential to understand how the charging jurisdiction prosecutes DUI case — what is negotiable, what programs are available (ARD, treatment court, credit for time-served in inpatient rehabilitation, house arrest, work release). This is important because the availability of these programs vary and may be unavailable in certain counties.
Likewise, as with any criminal case, properly evaluating a DUI case is the essential step in defending it. In sum, determining whether a case is appropriate for trial, or would be better served seeking a sentencing alternative, is most important and can only be done after conducting a full investigation of the case. As noted above, investigating a DUI case typically involves analyzing the science of BAC testing. It also includes obtaining and reviewing documents (e.g., incident reports, chain of custody reports, consent waivers, driving / criminal history, the mobile video recording (MVR - dash cam). Of course, a DUI investigation also must include a full and detailed personal history and version of the incident from the accused.
2. DUI Prosecutions are Rigid
DUI cases are also special in the way they are prosecuted. They are regularly given special attention within District Attorney Offices. More importantly, unlike most other crimes, they are almost impossible to negotiate away. While it is often requested, it is very rare to resolve a viable DUI case with a guilty plea to a traffic offense. In short, the idea that a DUI charge will go unprosecuted or can be resolved with a “wet reckless” is not realistic. Here, it is important to recognize, that DUI is a serious crime and significant public safety hazard. It is also important to understand that the law is an extension of our political system. Judges and prosecutors are generally elected. Being soft on DUI does not win votes.
Moreover, prosecutors and courts are unmoved by the direct and collateral consequences that DUI offenders face. They are unsympathetic to the hardships a DUI conviction causes whether it is prolonged incarceration, loss of employment, burdensome fines and costs, loss of all transportation, family hardships. In sum, the system is unmoved by these problems and is waiting to tell the accused that they should have anticipated these predicaments prior to offending.
But remember, a DUI charge is not the same as a DUI conviction. Like any other crime, the Commonwealth has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There are also diversion programs in place to resolve a DUI without a conviction. As noted, the purpose of this article is to provide a general understanding of Pennsylvania DUI law and procedures. Once you are ready to question the specifics of your case, it is essential that you call a qualified DUI attorney.
3. Elements of a Pennsylvania DUI Offense
In Pennsylvania, a DUI conviction must be supported by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that:
The accused drove or was in actual physical control over the movement of a vehicle;
The vehicle was on a highway or traffic way; and,
Any one of the following:
The accused was incapable of safely driving after drinking alcohol;
had a BAC .08% or above;
had a BAC .02% if under 21 years old or driving a school bus;
had a BAC .04% or above if driving a commercial vehicle (other than a school bus);
had any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in their blood;
had any amount of a non-prescribed Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance;
The accused was incapable of safely driving after using a drug or a combination of drugs;
The accused was incapable of safely driving after using alcohol and a drug or a combination of drugs;
The accused is under the influence of a solvent or noxious substance in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 7303.