What to Know When Arrested for Underage DUI in Pennsylvania

In a previous post addressing the legal impact of reaching adulthood, we reviewed several legal issues surrounding an 18th birthday in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With school out for the summer and many college students returning home late May and remaining through August, the number of drivers under the age of twenty-one (21) naturally increases. With this increase in the number of young drivers on the road comes an increased risk of impaired driving. Setting this scene, the topic of today’s post is the effect of a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) before a person’s twenty-first birthday.
Underage DUI

DUI is one of the most common criminal charges for college-aged students (17-22) in Pennsylvania. It goes without saying that the drinking age in Pennsylvania is 21. Consumption of alcohol by anyone under 21 is illegal, and for this reason the standards are stricter and punishment often more severe for those charged with underage DUI in Pennsylvania.

For starters, while the blood alcohol content required to charge someone over the age of 21 generally begins at 0.08%, a driver under the age of 21 can be charged with driving under the influence if a chemical test shows a blood alcohol content of 0.02% or higher. Realistically, it’s nearly impossible to have just one alcohol beverage and not go over 0.02%, which is why many in the legal field refer to a charge of underage DUI as a zero tolerance offense.

As it pertains to sentencing, any driver under the age of 21 arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania is charged according to the “high” blood alcohol content rate. The impact of this categorization is that the potential punishment the underage driver faces will likely be far more severe. The potential penalties include jail time up to ninety (90) days, a $500.00 fine, and an automatic license suspension for twelve months if the driver’s blood alcohol content is 0.10% or higher. Penalties only get worse for repeat underage offenders with the potential for a multi-year license suspension and six months in jail.

In addition to the legal consequences, the collateral effects of an underage DUI conviction cannot be ignored. The damage caused by an underage DUI conviction include potential termination of an underage driver’s insurance policy (or at the very least a significant boost in the monthly premiums), significant damage to a college student’s academic standing and educational progress, and potential issues with a student’s financial aid if this student is on scholarship.

Finally, a conviction for DUI will give the underage driver a criminal record. Unless and until new legislation currently making its way through the Pennsylvania House and Senate clears, this record will be accessible by anyone who lawfully runs a background check on you, including prospective employers or administrators at colleges and universities.

If you or your child have been charged with an underage DUI in Pennsylvania, assistance from a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney is critical. As outlined above, not taking this charge seriously can have dramatic and far-reaching consequences. The Criminal Defense Attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell, led by Michael W. Cassidy, Esq., have extensive experience and knowledge in assisting clients through these matters. If any of the above information applies to you, call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

 

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

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Enhanced Bucks County DUI Patrols Beginning at 10:00 PM This Evening

As highlighted in our most recent article, Thanksgiving Eve marks the beginning of an increase in DUI patrols in the local area with the objective of cracking down on accidents, injuries and deaths caused by impaired driving throughout Pennsylvania during the holiday season.
DUI PIC
An article published in the Newtown Patch, a source for local news in Bucks County, details the county’s planned attack to monitor impaired driving throughout the county this evening. According to the article, linked here, police units from eight (8) separate departments will be out this evening with the objective of detecting and deterring drunk driving.

In what is anticipated to be “the most heavily traveled Thanksgiving in almost a decade”, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office intends to combat the potential for a heightened number of impaired drivers by rolling out DUI patrols who will be roving along the Street Road corridor.

According to the article in the Newtown Patch, starting at 10:00 PM this evening “21 police from Bensalem, Middletown, Solebury, Upper Southampton, Warrington and Warwick Townships, as well as Newtown and Penndel Boroughs, will patrol the four-lane thoroughfare from Bensalem to Warrington, as well as its feeder streets, until approximately 3 a.m. Thursday…”

To understand why Bucks County is taking such a progressive and aggressive stance against drunk driving, the Newtown Patch provides the following startling data. Just in Pennsylvania, the Thanksgiving weekend was the third-deadliest holiday period in 2015. There were 1,428 crashes, which resulted in 21 traffic deaths. These statistics provide a very clear picture of exactly why Bucks County has targeted Thanksgiving Eve as a night to unveil its most recent strategy to deter impaired driving. Furthermore, as cited in the Newtown Patch article, ten (10) drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence just last year.

As noted in our previous article, the upcoming holiday season should be one of joy and festivities celebrated with family and friends. Please take special note of this early alert regarding the presence of impaired drivers on the road, the heightened police awareness, and to always think twice before getting behind the wheel after imbibing in the holiday spirits.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP, nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

Thanksgiving Eve: The Beginning of the DUI Danger Zone

It should be no surprise to most to hear that the Thanksgiving weekend is the most traveled holiday period of the year. Students are returning home from college and families are traveling from all over to be together for the holiday. But did you know that DUI arrests are categorically at their highest between Thanksgiving Eve and the end of New Year’s weekend? That means we are now entering what can be described as the “DUI Danger Zone”.

For that reason, you can expect police presence to be ramping up in the following week and continuing into the New Year. This means more DUI Checkpoints as well as patrol forces out specifically for monitoring potentially impaired driving.

To understand why Thanksgiving marks the beginning of this ramped up police presence and concentration on DUI detection and accident prevention, consider the following. In 2013, over 300 people died in motor vehicle accidents nationally just during the Thanksgiving weekend. In 2014, and just in Pennsylvania alone, there were 499 crashes reported over Thanksgiving weekend and 13 deaths attributable to impaired driving.

The time-frame between Thanksgiving and New Years is a festive time intended to be celebrated with family and friends. That said, it is important to remain smart, alert and safe. Please take special note of this early alert regarding the presence of impaired drivers on the road and also to think twice before getting behind the wheel this holiday season.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP, nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

Ripple of Supreme Court DUI Decision Causes Waves in Pennsylvania

Ripple of Supreme Court DUI Decision Causes Waves in Pennsylvania

Following a June, 2016 ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Birchfield v. North Dakota, DUI prosecutions in Pennsylvania are undergoing significant modifications. In Birchfield, the U.S. Supreme Court made two considerable declarations. The Court first ruled that the Fourth Amendment permits police officers to conduct warrantless breath tests incident to an arrest for drunk driving. However, and much more significantly, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not permit a blood test incident to arrest without a search warrant. The Court’s rationale is rather straightforward: a blood draw in a DUI case is so intrusive that the search warrant is required.

The impact of this ruling is significant, as the Supreme Court has now directed that a search warrant is presumed required if the police want to take the blood of someone suspected of driving under the influence. This means drivers now have a right to refuse to take a blood test (not breath test) absent a validly issued search warrant, and their refusal to take a blood test cannot be the basis for the imposition of criminal penalties. Furthermore, the “implied-consent” laws in Pennsylvania no longer allow police to draw a person’s blood based solely on the fact that they were arrested while driving and suspected of DUI.

While there is some ambiguity in terms of the applicability of the Supreme Court’s ruling and how it is applied in Pennsylvania, as PA does not treat a refusal as a separate crime, one thing is clear: imposing criminal penalties for refusing a warrantless DUI blood test is unconstitutional.

It is worth noting here that, following the Supreme Court’s June 23rd ruling, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation revised its DL-26 warnings which police read to motorists being asked to submit to a blood alcohol test (blood, urine, or breath) by eliminating all references to criminal penalties for refusal. It is not yet immediately clear the effect Birchfield will have on PennDOT’s ability to issue a one-year license suspension based on a driver’s refusal to submit to a blood test.

It is important to remember that this ruling only directly implicates an individual’s right to refuse to submit to a blood test without a search warrant. Alternatively, and based on the lack of physical intrusion and minimal inconvenience involved, the Supreme Court ruled that search warrants are not required for a breath test. Therefore, officers of this Commonwealth still have the right to demand you submit to a breath test (aka, “breathalyzer”) and do not need to first obtain a search warrant to gain compliance.

It is also important to highlight that even if you’ve been arrested for DUI and informed that refusal to consent to a blood draw would lead to increased penalties, this ruling is not necessarily a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. The State still has the ability to demonstrate general impairment based on the arresting officer’s testimony and other available evidence, and since Pennsylvania does not have a separate crime outlawing refusal to consent to a blood test the impact of Birchfield will (most likely) be felt strongest in the sentencing phase. That being said, the Supreme Court’s rulings in Birchfield will impact the State’s prosecution of DUIs where the only evidence of impairment is from an unconstitutional blood draw.

Whether it is in the conviction or sentencing stage, Birchfield provides significant ammunition to defense attorneys practicing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania arguing for suppression of blood-alcohol content evidence and reduced penalties. If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence in Pennsylvania, the guidance of an attorney skilled in DUI defense is critical. The Criminal Defense Attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell have extensive experience and knowledge in assisting clients through these matters. If any of the above information applies to you, call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

DUI LAW: Refusing to take a Blood, Breath or Urine Test in Pennsylvania

A common hypothetical often asked of criminal defense attorneys includes the following scenario. A driver is pulled over in the state of Pennsylvania. The officer, suspecting the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, requests the driver submit to chemical testing (be it blood, breath or urine). The driver refuses, believing this may be his or her best way to get out of the DUI under the mistaken belief that the law requires evidence of a chemical test to convict an individual for driving under the influence. So, what happens next?

Pennsylvania has a regulation, the “implied consent” law, which covers just this situation. The law states that the privilege of driving comes with it an understanding that you must submit to a blood, breath or urine test if asked by a law enforcement officer if he or she suspects you may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Your refusal to comply carries very significant risks. If you refuse, PennDOT (the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) automatically suspends your operating privilege for one full year regardless if you’re later found innocent of the DUI charge. It’s important to recognize that this suspension will be in addition to any court ordered sanctions regarding license suspensions, meaning your total license suspension could span well over one year (potentially as high as almost three years). However, it must be emphasized that an officer has an affirmative duty to provide a motorist arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence with notice/warning that refusing to submit to chemical testing results in this one year suspension.

Now, the “implied consent” law is civil in nature and covers PennDOT’s authority to suspend your license for the year for refusing to submit to chemical testing. This is separate from what the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will seek to demonstrate in your DUI case. A common misconception, as stated above, is that by refusing to take a blood, breath or urine test, the state can’t prove you were intoxicated. In reality, the prosecutor for the state will still have several different methods available to make his case. It should initially be noted that your refusal to take a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content is admissible in court. The prosecutor can attempt to make the connection to the finder of fact that your refusal to take the test was based on your belief that you would be over the limit.

Additionally, the prosecutor’s objective is to show general impairment. Therefore, by calling the arresting officer to the stand to testify as to his observations about your ability to operate a vehicle, your general appearance, and your communications with the officer, the state prosecutor may still have very strong evidence of impairment based on that officer’s eyewitness testimony.

What is most alarming is the fact that, because the Court will have no basis to determine otherwise, if you are convicted for DUI after refusing to submit to chemical testing, you will be prosecuted under the presumption you were driving with the highest blood alcohol content.

If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Pennsylvania, the guidance of an attorney experienced in DUI defense is critical. The Criminal Defense Attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell have extensive experience in assisting clients through these matters. If any of the above information applies to you, call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

Pennsylvania Enacts New DUI Regulations

On May 25, 2016, Pennsylvania enacted Act 33. This regulation adds the requirement for a car ignition interlock system for first-time offenders who were convicted on drunk-driving charges with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent or greater. Those convicted and required to use the system will have to use the ignition interlocks for at least one year.

DUI PICThe ignition interlock system is a breathalyzer for an individual’s vehicle. It requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece on the device before starting the vehicle. It will not allow the driver’s car to start if they are drunk.  And these devices are not cheap: to lease an ignition interlock system for one year costs approximately $1,200.00. That’s in addition to other fines, costs and penalties associated with a DUI conviction. .

Previously the ignition interlock requirement applied only to repeat drunk driving offenders in Pennsylvania. Essentially, this new law means that anyone convicted of a DUI offense with a blood-alcohol content over 0.10 [legal limit is .08] must use the ignition interlock unit. However, it’s worth noting that the interlock requirement does not take effect for 15 months, meaning those convicted now for a first-time DUI will still face the potential of a license suspension rather than the ignition interlock system.

It is also important to recognize that if you are arrested and convicted for a first-time DUI, you may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program, or ARD. If you qualify and satisfy the requirements of ARD, it will leave you without a conviction and you will likely not be affected by this new law requiring an ignition interlock system.

Advocates claim a dual benefit: they argue the new law will protect people on the roads and also allow first-time offenders to avoid the license suspension which comes with a conviction, meaning they can keep their jobs or other responsibilities

The push for the enactment of this regulation was spurred in 2015 when there were 12,884 alcohol-related crashes in Pennsylvania that caused 306 deaths and 6,042 alcohol-related injuries.

If you are arrested for driving under the influence for the first time, the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell have extensive experience in assisting clients through these matters.  They will assist you in determining if you qualify for ARD, whether the Program is right for you, and guiding you through the Application process.

ARD may not be right or even available to you, but the best way to determine this is by speaking with a criminal defense attorney equipped to guide you through this process. If any of the above information applies to you, call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

The Pennsylvania ARD Program for First-Time Offenders

ARD, or Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, is a diversionary program available in Pennsylvania designed to divert first-time offenders from the criminal justice system. It is a second chance provided to certain first-time offenders which is available and offered at the discretion of the District Attorney.

If you have been charged with a certain qualifying, non-violent offense (like a DUI or minor drug related crime, for example) and are accepted into the ARD Program, Pennsylvania will suspend the charge while requiring that you complete certain court-ordered conditions like community service, counseling, and potentially restitution. It can be analogized to probation, wherein those who qualify must be willing to acquiesce to a period of supervision.

The major benefit of ARD is that you are not formally “convicted” of the crime charged. If you successfully complete the program, the criminal charges which were brought against you are dismissed. Why is this so important? It allows you to answer “no” in response to questions which asks whether you’ve ever been convicted of a crime.

Additionally, 30 days after completing ARD in full, you are able to petition the court to expunge your arrest record. If you’ve successfully completed the requirements of the program, your ARD participation will not be made publicly available. An added benefit, especially for those facing a DUI charge, is that your license suspension will generally be for a shorter period of time then if you were actually convicted.

You should be aware that while these records are not available to the public, the Commonwealth’s District Attorney will have access to these documents should you find yourself on the wrong side of the law in the future. If you are arrested a second time, you will be sentenced as a second-time offender by the court unless ten years have since passed.

Please note there are certain limitations on eligibility for ARD, and not all first-time offenders will qualify. If you’ve been charged with a non-violent crime and are a first-time offender, ARD is an option that (at the very least) is worth considering. ARD may not be right or even available to you, but the best way to determine this is by speaking with a criminal defense attorney equipped to guide you through this process. The Criminal Defense Attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell have extensive experience in assisting clients in determining if they qualify for ARD, whether the Program is right for them, and guiding clients through the Application process.

Additionally, if you’ve successfully completed ARD and thirty days have passed, you should be taking the steps necessary to have these documents expunged from your record. While the process is rather straightforward in dealing with the State, it is generally a much more lengthy process in dealing with PennDOT. If you’ve previously completed the ARD Program, the Criminal Defense Team at Howland Hess O’Connell is also available to assist you in having your record expunged and ensuring this expungement was done completely.

If any of the above information applies to you, call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.