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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Slow it Down in Pennsylvania Work Zones or Pay the Price!

Operation Orange Squeeze
On April 15, 2017, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, coupled with Pennsylvania State Police, launched its annual work-zone safety initiative known as “Operation Orange Squeeze”.

The maximum speed limit in work areas is forty (40) miles-per-hour. Drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike should be on alert whenever they see orange, whether it be cones, signs or barrels.

According to Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Mr. Mark Compton, over the last seventy years, over 30 Pennsylvania Turnpike employees have lost their lives while on the job. In the calendar year 2015, 400 motor vehicle accidents occurred in work zones along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Finally, just over the last five years, two Pennsylvania workers were killed in accidents which occurred in work zones along the Turnpike.

In order to curb this unnecessary loss of life, Pennsylvania State Troopers will be confronting the issue of speeding motorists in work zones in a new manner. According to the commander of the Pennsylvania State Police Troop charged with Turnpike patrols, Captain Gregory Bacher, troopers will be dispatched in tandem to target speeding vehicles in work zones. One trooper will be positioned in an orange turnpike construction vehicle. Another trooper will be strategically located just outside the work zone positioned to pull over offenders and issue citations. From the construction vehicles, the troopers will be monitoring speeds of vehicles traveling through the work zones and alerting the other trooper located outside the work zone.

Now, just to give you an idea of how effective the Pennsylvania State Police have been in curbing speeding in work zones, take note of the following statistic: more than 6,000 citations were issued along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in work zones in the year 2015 alone. Furthermore, this is not the first time the Turnpike Commission and State Police have united for Operation Orange Squeeze to combat the problem of speeding in work zones. So, what does this mean for drivers traveling along the Pennsylvania Turnpike? Mainly that the two agencies are prepared and experienced in aggressively confronting this issue head on.

If caught in the “Squeeze”, motorists could face significant penalties. Fines for certain traffic violations in an active work zone, including speeding, are doubled. More importantly, if you are caught driving 11 miles per hour above the posted speed limited in an active work zone, you will lose your license for 15 days. Because this requires you to physically surrender your license to PennDOT upon being convicted, it will likely (see, definitely) take longer than 15 days before you actually get your license back and can then legally drive again in Pennsylvania.  Add to all this the fact that you also face the imposition of a 5-point penalty on your driving record, and it should be clear why speeding in a Pennsylvania work zone is such a risky (and needless) proposition.

If you are caught by Operation Orange Squeeze, the attorneys at Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy & O’Connell, LLP can assist you through the legal process and help you understand your rights and what defenses are available. Please call to setup an initial free consultation at (215) 947-6240, or contact us online.

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.

To Be Young Again: The Legal Impact of Your 18th Birthday

In the majority of states throughout our country, including Pennsylvania, the 18th birthday is a major legal milestone. This is the age when an individual is legally deemed an adult (though some parents might argue otherwise!).

So, what does this mean for all those seniors in high school or freshman in college celebrating their transition into adulthood? For starters, they can now vote, enter into an enforceable contract, and join the armed forces. Sounds great, right? Well, like all things in life, there are both pros and cons.

This post is going to focus on two areas of law in which this firm practices and how turning 18 changes an individual’s outlook and rights legally. This is certainly not intended to be an all-encompassing overview, but instead a starting point of conversations for parents with their children and/or consideration for those of you making the jump into adulthood.

First, we’ll review the impact that your 18th birthday has when it comes to entering into contracts. In most states, a minor (anyone under the age of 18) is deemed incapable of entering into an enforceable contract through a legal doctrine known as incapacity (this doctrine also covers the mentally ill and very intoxicated persons in most states). As a minor, an individual receives blanket protection, the strongest available defense against the formation of a valid contract. That contract is deemed voidable at the discretion of the minor (NOT THE OTHER PARTY), such that the incapacitated party (the minor) could dis-affirm the contract. If they elected to dis-affirm the contract, any obligations they had via said contract would be waived.

NOTE: There is a slight exception here for the otherwise lock-solid protection against contract formation afforded to minors. While generally contracts entered into by individuals under the age of 18 are deemed voidable at the minor’s discretion, minors may still be on the hook financially for what are deemed “necessities”. Necessities are essentially those things you require in order to live: food, clothing, housing. For necessities, the minor may still be required to pay the fair market value of the product, but that’s not necessarily the contract price agreed to originally.

Once a minor crosses the threshold into adulthood, the court system will hold him or her responsible for the promises he or she made when they entered into the contract. As an adult, you will be legally responsible for paying the contract price called for in the agreement, and if you don’t, you can (and likely will) be sued. No longer do you carry the shield of youth, and those obligations you incur via contract will be legally enforceable.

The second area of discussion is the always hot-topic of underage drinking. While you may be deemed an adult in the eyes of the legal system in Pennsylvania, you are still barred from buying, drinking, possessing, or transporting any type of alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, liquor, etc.) until you reach the age of twenty-one (21). It’s an oft-asked question: “Why can I go to war for my country at 18 years old but not have a beer?” This is an easy answer: because the law says so!

Even at the ages of 18, 19, or 20, if you are found buying, drinking, or in possession of alcohol, an officer of the law absolutely has authority to cite you for underage drinking. You’re then looking at fines and potentially jail time. Not only that, you will most likely lose your right to operate a vehicle for 90 days and this transgression will appear on your criminal record.

Parents should also be wary in this arena, as those parents who allow individuals under the age of 21 to drink in their home may be liable both civilly and criminally.

Make no doubt about it, every birthday is a special one, including one’s 18th. But it is important to be aware that the game does indeed change one you’re deemed an adult.

If any of the above legal issues apply to you or your child, the legal team at Howland Hess O’Connell is available to assist you today. A free consultation can be arranged by calling (215)-947-6240. Also feel free to contact us online to schedule a meeting today.

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.

License Suspensions: Part Three of a Three Part Series

In Part One of our Three Part Series regarding License Suspensions, we introduced generally the topic of license suspensions and the most common causes for a suspended license. In Part Two of our Three Part Series, we discussed the issue of License Suspensions resulting from non-attentiveness. In today’s post, we discuss the issue of suspensions resulting from over-attentiveness (usually caused by a moral desire to obey the law and simply make the ticket or fine go away).

Imagine the following, very real scenario: you receive a ticket and, being overly concerned about not being timely in your response, write a check and pay the fine immediately. In doing so, do you realize what you’ve done? You have just plead guilty to whatever violation is the basis of the ticket.

Car Keys

Did you know that many violations lead to additional penalties imposed by Penndot that are not mentioned on the ticket? Many people don’t. In addition, since local courts are not permitted to provide legal advice, many people who are trying to promptly respond to the ticket (to avoid a suspension, and follow the law) frequently find out after paying the fine that Penndot is suspending the license because of the nature of the violation.

Be aware that pleading ‘guilty’ or being found ‘guilty’, means being “convicted“. Once convicted, Penndot can impose points and suspensions which can be more costly than the original fines.

The moral of this story and three-part series is simple: be attentive to any tickets you may receive but be cautious before pleading guilty to them. It is critically important to know what all the ramifications are prior to doing so.

NOTICE: If you’re license has been suspended or you’re facing the potential of a license suspension, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are available today to help you. Michael Cassidy is very experienced with the Motor Vehicle Code, Penndot’s schedule of penalties, and, most importantly the police officers and judicial system that handle these citations. Competent legal advice can save money (in fines, costs, and higher insurance premiums), and quite frequently, the loss of your driver’s license.

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.

License Suspensions: Part Two of a Three Part Series

In Part One of our Three Part Series regarding License Suspensions, we introduced generally the topic of license suspensions and the most common causes for a suspended license. As previously mentioned, there are a myriad of reasons a person’s license might be suspended, including non-attentiveness after receipt of a ticket or, to the contrary, being ultra-attentive upon receipt of a ticket.

In today’s second posting regarding license suspensions, we discuss the dangers of non-attentiveness. Consider the following. You receive a ticket for something as minor as a parking ticket, or making an illegal turn. Unfortunately, you forget to promptly respond within the permitted response period (or lose the ticket). Although the court sends out a reminder, you either do not receive it or forget again to respond. That “failure to respond” will then be promptly reported by the local court to Penndot and Penndot, in turn, will suspend your driver’s license.

Lic Susp

It is not infrequent for people who “failed to respond” and who had their license suspended, to not even know their license was suspended. These individuals then drive only to get pulled over and cited for “Driving Under Suspension”. This violation alone calls for a one year suspension. The moving or parking violation is the original violation, and when you eventually plead guilty to the citation and pay the fine, you are subsequently admitting guilt to driving under suspension.

For the foregoing reasons, it is critical that you be aware of the full penalty before pleading guilty to any offenses and paying the fines.

NOTICE: If you’re license has been suspended or you’re facing the potential of a license suspension, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are available today to help you. Michael Cassidy is very experienced with the Motor Vehicle Code, Penndot’s schedule of penalties, and, most importantly the police officers and judicial system that handle these citations. Competent legal advice can save money (in fines, costs, and higher insurance premiums), and quite frequently, the loss of your driver’s license.

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.