Implications of new Pennsylvania DUI Legislation
Pennsylvania DUI laws have changed. Our Pennsylvania Legislature, which generally doesn’t seem to get a lot accomplished, did manage to pass a piece of DUI legislation, which has subsequently been signed into law by the Governor on October 27, 2014. It would appear that the legislation is a reaction to a recent series of articles in one of our local newspapers, decrying both the lack of enforcement of existing DUI-related legislation, as well as perceived “loopholes” allowing for multiple DUI offenders to escape enhanced punishment (i.e. longer jail sentences).
In short, effective sixty days from the signing of this legislation by the governor, those charged with multiple outstanding DUI’s will now be subject to enhanced penalties. These offenses will now be “stacked.” For example, an individual without any prior history of DUI’s, who has two outstanding DUI’s will now be punished for a “DUI #1” and a “DUI #2”. Prior to this legislation, both offenses would have been considered “DUI#1’s.” Subsequent DUI’s are punished much more severely in Pennsylvania. For example, a first offense DUI with a blood alcohol content of .16% or greater (“Tier 3″) calls for a mandatory 72 hours in prison up to 6 months. A second such offense calls for a mandatory 90 days up to 5 years. A third offense Tier 3 DUI mandates 1 year in prison up to 5 years. The “look back” period in Pennsylvania (or the time period in which past DUI’s will be used to enhance a current offense) is 10 years.
Additional “legislative fixes” in this rather hastily enacted piece of legislation allow for occupational limited licenses (work licenses) in certain drug conviction-related suspensions where courts had failed to notify the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation of the convictions in the statutorily required time period, as well as effecting a grading change for certain DUI convictions (namely, second offense refusals).
In their haste to pass this law, the Legislature did utilize language which the astute defense lawyer will be able to argue mitigates AGAINST enhanced penalties in certain instances. Those who find themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of being accused of driving under the influence should always retain such an attorney to first explore defenses to the charge, and failing that, to explore sentencing alternative programs, which vary from county to county, allowing one the opportunity to avoid the otherwise mandatory terms of incarceration dictated by Pennsylvania’s DUI law.