New DUI Law in Pennsylvania
New DUI Law Means Tougher Penalties for Certain Repeat Offenders
On October 24, Governor Wolf signed Act 153 amending the Vehicle Code to increase the penalties related to driving under the influence (DUI), driving on a license suspended after a DUI, and DUI accidents that result in death and personal injury.
The legislation targets repeat offenders by increasing the grading and mandatory minimums sentences for defendants with prior offenses. It also fixes the language concerning chemical tests of blood after the changes mandated by Birchfield v. North Dakota and Commonwealth v. Evans.
Grading and sentencing for DUI is generally determined based on two parts, the number of prior offenses, and the tier assigned to the current offense.
For calculation purposes, a prior offense is any acceptance into the ARD program, juvenile adjudication, or conviction for which judgment of sentence has been entered ten years prior to, or any time since, the current offense.
The tiers are generally determined based on blood alcohol content at the time of arrest. The lowest tier, considered general impairment, denotes a blood alcohol content of .08%-.10%. The middle tier, considered high impairment, denotes a blood alcohol content of .10%-.16%. The third tier, considered highest impairment, denotes a blood alcohol level of .16% or above.
A person will be charged with at least middle tier if there was an accident, regardless of fault or injury. A person will be considered highest tier if he is charged with DUI as a result of imbibing controlled substances or if he refuses a chemical test of breath. In the past, a blood test refusal would also result in a charge in the highest tier.
The new law codifies recent court opinions and clarifies that a blood refusal will only result in the increased penalty if it is in response to a valid search warrant.
A first offense DUI regardless of tier, and a second DUI offense in the first or middle tier is graded as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months incarceration with varying mandatory minimums. A third or subsequent DUI, general impairment, is a misdemeanor of the second degree with a maximum penalty of 2 years.
A second DUI highest tier, and a third or subsequent offense in the middle or highest tier are first degree misdemeanors punishable by up to five years in prison.
New Pennsylvania DUI Law
Before these changes any DUI offense regardless of prior record or tier were graded as misdemeanors. The new law makes it a third-degree felony for the following circumstances:
- a person’s third “highest impairment” -tier offense;
- any third offense where a minor is an occupant of the vehicle, and;
- all fourth or subsequent offense regardless of tier is now also a felony of the third degree.
A felony of the third degree is punishable by up to seven years incarceration and a $15,000.00 fine.
In addition to incarceration and fines, most DUI convictions also carry mandatory drivers’ license suspensions. Driving while your operating privilege is suspended related to a DUI has traditionally been a summary offense with an additional year long license suspension and a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days incarceration.
The new law keeps this penalty in place for a first offense but increases the mandatory jail sentence for second or subsequent offense. A second summary conviction of driving while suspended DUI related now carries a mandatory 90 days incarceration. A third offense will be considered a misdemeanor of the third degree and require 6 months in jail.
Penalties have also increased for those who cause death as a result of a DUI attributable accident who have had prior convictions for DUI. A defendant with no prior offenses charged with Homicide by vehicle DUI related will still face a second-degree felony and the three-year mandatory minimum sentence, per victim. Now however, if the defendant has one or more prior DUI offense, the homicide by vehicle DUI related will be graded as a first-degree felony. If he has one prior DUI, he now faces a mandatory five years for each victim. If there are more than one prior DUI convictions, the mandatory minimum rises to seven years.
All of these new provisions are scheduled to take affect on December 24, 2018, 60 days after the law was enacted.
Lawyers Journal is the flagship publication of the Allegheny County Bar Association.