DUI… It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Crime

by William Jorden on March 22, 2011

by Harry F. White, II, Esquire

On February 1, 2004, sweeping changes occurred to the Pennsylvania Driving Under The Influence (DUI) Statute. Those amendments were a direct result of the federal government’s threat to withhold highway and other subsidies from states which did not lower the DUI cutoff to .08% blood alcohol (bac), but also indirectly, the result from changes in our society.

Today, there are more drivers, vehicles, roads, and the opportunity for accidents than ever before. Until about 1965, most families had only one vehicle. Now, a family with only a single vehicle is a rarity.

Pennsylvania’s first DUI statute was promulgated in 1919. That statute was amended on a fairly regular basis involving minor changes until the 1982 amendments, which brought forth the concept of mandatory sentencing.

Before 1982, DUI first time offenders very rarely went to jail.

Between 1982 and 2004, there were mandatory penalties of forty-eight hours in jail for a first offense, thirty days in jail for a second offense, and ninety days in jail for a third offense. The “look back” period of time to calculate whether the offense was a first, second or third, was seven years.

The statute did not differentiate between those with high blood alcohol counts, or those with low blood alcohol counts. All suspensions for DUI convictions under the 1982 law were for twelve months. Additionally, under Pennsylvania’s implied consent statute, if a person suspected of drunken driving refused a chemical test to determine the level of alcohol in his or her system, that also led to a separate and independent twelve month suspension.

Under the new 2004 DUI Code, the driver’s specific level of alcohol as well as number of any prior offenses, determines the punishment. The previous seven year “look back” period has been increased to ten years. There are now three separate categories, all with different sentences for a first, second or third or subsequent offense. These categories are broken down essentially by the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood. The statute provides that any driver with a b.a.c. between .08 to .099 for a first offense receives no jail time, but could receive up to a six month maximum probationary sentence. Interestingly enough, there is no license suspension for a first tier violation, assuming there was no accident with injury or damage.

A driver with a b.a.c. between .10 to .159 faces a forty-eight hour minimum jail sentence and a maximum jail sentence up to six months. The fine can be anywhere from $500.00 to $5,000.00. The license suspension is twelve months.

A person who commits a first offense DUI with a b.a.c. of .16 or higher or commits a DUI by virtue of controlled substances, or commits a DUI and refuses to take a chemical test, faces a seventy-two hour consecutive minimum jail term, up to a six month maximum jail term. The fine is at least $1,000.00, but could be up to $5,000.00.

A person convicted of an offense within one of the three categories above, which is a second offense within ten years and his or her b.a.c. was between .08 and .099 will serve a five day minimum sentence, will receive a fine of $300.00 to $2,500.00, a mandatory one year ignition interlock, and a twelve month license suspension.

A person convicted of a second offense with a b.a.c. between .10 and .159 will serve a minimum of thirty days in jail, will receive a fine of $750.00 to $5,000.00, a mandatory one year ignition interlock, and a twelve month license suspension.

A person who commits a second offense with a b.a.c. of .160 or higher or as a result of the use of controlled substances, or who refuses the chemical test, will serve a ninety day minimum jail sentence, receive a $1,500.00 to $10,000.00 fine, a mandatory one year ignition interlock, and undergo a full drug and alcohol assessment and treatment.

Full drug and alcohol assessments for first offenses will be phased in over the next several years.

The third and subsequent offenses result in even more serious penalties.

The underlying theme of the new act is to focus more on drug and alcohol assessment and treatment issues than the previous statute. Modern day police departments are extremely well trained in the identification and apprehension of persons driving under the influence, and approximately four hundred persons annually are arrested in Crawford County for that crime. Because of more traffic, more drivers and the change in societal attitudes, the days when generally you would not be arrested for DUI unless you caused an accident, are long gone. Society has realized that a drunk driver, in the blink of an eye, can needlessly kill or maim another party or themselves. If you want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, do it in your own home or when you have a designated driver.

As always, be smart and pay attention.

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