How the Penalties for DUI Charges Have Changed in Pennsylvania
In October 2018, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a new law that created even harsher penalties for people convicted of drunk driving. Certain types of DUI charges also fit into a new felony category. Given the tough DUI sanctions and the fact that there are more than 46,000 adult driving under the influence arrests recorded every year in Pennsylvania, it is important to understand how the law changes could affect you.
Changes to Pennsylvania DUI Laws
While DUI penalties have been harsh in the state for many years, the legal changes mean that the consequences of conviction are even more serious than in the past. The legal changes came after Senate Bill 961 was overwhelmingly passed in both houses of the Pennsylvania state legislature. It was adopted by the House in a 184-1 vote and by the Senate in a 45-4 vote.
The most important changes to Pennsylvania drunk driving laws include the following:
- Felony charges for repeat DUI convictions
- Elevated penalties for vehicular homicide linked to DUI
- Tougher license suspension policies in DUI cases
- Tighter restrictions for adults with learner’s permit drivers
DUI Felony Charges in Pennsylvania
Before the changes to the law, DUI convictions were always misdemeanors in Pennsylvania. Now, people can be convicted of a felony following a third DUI conviction with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that’s greater than 0.16. Furthermore, a fourth DUI conviction at any BAC level can result in a felony.
A felony conviction can have long-lasting ramifications, especially in terms of access to housing and employment. However, individuals who have faced multiple DUI charges can work with a DUI defense lawyer in Pennsylvania to work to avoid a felony record.
Vehicular Homicide Penalties
In the past, offenders convicted of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence could face a minimum of three years behind bars. Vehicular homicide occurs when someone is killed as a result of reckless or negligent driving. This is typically due to a car accident caused by a drunk driver.
After the changes to the law, the new minimum sentence for homicide by vehicle linked to DUI is five years in prison if the offender had a previous DUI conviction. Those with two prior DUI convictions could be sentenced to at least seven years behind bars if convicted again on the charge.
Driving With a Suspended License
In most Pennsylvania DUI cases, even first offenses, a driver’s license suspension is the standard administrative penalty. It is meant to be a strong deterrent against operating while intoxicated since driving plays a big role in work, school and family lives.
However, this also means that many people take the risk and continue to drive while their license is suspended. In the past, if you drove with a license suspended because of a DUI conviction, you could spend up to 90 days in jail and pay a $500 fine. The penalty remained the same for each subsequent charge.
Now, however, a second conviction for driving with a DUI suspended license can lead to a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail; a third offense can amount to a $2,500 fine and six months behind bars.
DUI as a Passenger?
Under the new law, it is possible to be charged with drunk driving while a passenger in a vehicle. If you are an adult accompanying a new driver with a learner’s permit, you must remain sober while in the vehicle. If the driver with a learner’s permit is pulled over, you could be asked to provide a breath sample and charged with DUI, even if you never sat behind the wheel yourself.
Charged With DUI? Contact a PA Criminal Defense Lawyer
DUI charges have the potential to have a serious impact on your life moving forward. Whether you are facing a first offense or have been convicted in the past, legal advice can be critical to successfully moving forward in a drunk driving case. If you have been accused of driving under the influence, contact a Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney at Kusturiss Law. You can use our easy online form or call our office in Media, PA, at (610) 565-0240 to set up an initial consultation.