DUI in Pennsylvania

What is a DUI in Pennsylvania?

Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or controlled substances, otherwise known as a DUI in Pennsylvania, is a serious offense. It involves driving or operating a vehicle when the operator’s ability is impaired or when the person’s blood alcohol concentration exceeds the state’s specified limit. Each state has blood alcohol concentration limits, and persons who drive with an alcohol concentration above the state’s limit are in violation of its Vehicle Code.

Pennsylvania courts, in collaboration with the state’s law enforcement agencies, enforce traffic laws and ensure compliance. The courts penalize persons who violate state traffic laws by driving under the influence of alcohol. Penalties are typically criminal and administrative, including fines, jail terms, and a loss of the offender’s driving license. In addition, DUI offenses are typically featured in the Pennsylvania criminal record of convicted offenders.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Pennsylvania?

A DUI and DWI are different acronyms that mean the same thing. DUI is an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, DWI means Driving While Intoxicated or Impaired. However, both terms refer to drunk driving or driving a vehicle while the driver’s ability is impaired. States across the US use different terms for impaired driving, but the official term in Pennsylvania is DUI. The state does not separate both terms.

Law enforcement officers determine intoxication by conducting field sobriety tests and chemical tests. Persons found to have high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) may face DUI charges.

Pennsylvania DUI Laws

According to 38 Pa. C. S. A. § 3802, Pennsylvania’s DUI laws are as follows:

  • It is unlawful to drive, physically control, or operate a vehicle when the person is generally impaired. This means that the person has consumed so much alcohol that the person is unable to safely operate, drive, or physically control the vehicle’s movements.
  • It is against the law for a person to drive, physically control, or operate a vehicle when the person has a high alcohol rate. A blood or breath alcohol concentration of at least 0.10% and at most 0.16% within two hours of driving is a high rate of alcohol.
  • In Pennsylvania, motorists may not drive, physically control, or operate a vehicle when such persons have blood or breath alcohol concentration levels higher than 0.16% within two (2) hours of driving. This is the highest rate of alcohol.
  • It is unlawful to drive, physically control, or operate a vehicle when the person’s blood contains any amount of controlled substances or metabolites of a substance.
  • It is illegal for a person to drive while under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs to the extent that the person’s ability to safely operate the vehicle is impaired. This also applies to any combination of alcohol and drugs.
  • It is against Pennsylvania laws for a person to drive, operate, or control a vehicle while under the influence of a noxious substance or solvent.
  • It is unlawful for a minor to drive, operate, or control a vehicle after ingesting so much alcohol that the minor’s breath or blood alcohol concentration is at least 0.02% within two (2) hours of driving.
  • It is illegal to operate, drive, or physically control a commercial vehicle if said driver is under the influence of controlled or intoxicating substances, or a combination of alcohol and controlled substances such that the driver’s ability to control the vehicle is impaired.

Pennsylvania does not allow any individual to operate, drive, or physically control a commercial vehicle after the person ingests so much alcohol that the person’s blood or breath alcohol concentration is:

  • At least 0.04% within two (2) hours of driving a commercial vehicle that is not a school vehicle or bus.
  • At least 0.02% within two (2) hours of driving a school vehicle or bus.

Law enforcement officers collect breath, blood, and urine samples to determine a motorist’s alcohol concentration. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT), Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the courts manage and penalize traffic offenses in the state. The DMV suspends or revokes offending motorists’ driver’s licenses. The DMV also assesses administrative penalties for other traffic offenses, including racing on highways, reckless driving, and fleeing from a police officer.

DUI Penalties in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania employs a tiered penalty system for DUIs. There are varying penalties for DUI offenses, depending on the nature of the offense, the offender’s blood alcohol concentration, the offender’s criminal history, and the presence of aggravating conditions. A DUI is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. However, DUI offenses that involve serious bodily injury or death to others are felony offenses. Penalties for DUI offenses in Pennsylvania include:

  • Fines of at least $300 and at most $5,000
  • Imprisonment for up to six (6) years
  • Probation
  • Suspension of the offender’s driver’s license
  • Enrolment in alcohol highway safety school
  • Installation of ignition interlock devices

What Happens When You Get a DWI in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania does not differentiate between DUIs and DWIs. The state administers DUI penalties as described in 38 Pa. C. S. A. § 3803. Law enforcement agents must collect evidence of drunk driving through breath, blood, and urine tests. Persons with higher alcohol concentrations than the state limit may face DUI charges. Such persons may employ DUI attorneys for legal advice or representation.

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in Pennsylvania?

A first DUI offense in Pennsylvania is an ungraded misdemeanor. The penalties ascribed to a first time offender depend primarily on the nature of the DUI. For general impairment, a first-time DUI offender must undergo probation for a minimum of six (6) months. The person must also pay a fine of $300 and attend an approved highway safety school. Pennsylvania does not assess imprisonment for first-time general impairment DUI. For a high rate of blood alcohol (0.10% to 0.15%), the penalty for a first-time DUI is a minimum fine of $500 and imprisonment for a minimum of 48 consecutive hours.

General impairment DUIs that involve the highest blood alcohol level is punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of 72 hours, fines of no less than $1,000 and no more than $5,000, and compliance with drug and alcohol treatments. The court may also require the offender to attend an approved alcohol highway safety school. Violations involving minors attract minimum fines of $1,000 and 100 hours of community service. If a first-time DUI results in property damage, death, or injury, the penalty is a fine of $500 to $5,000, imprisonment for 48 hours to six (6) months, and a suspension of the offender’s driver’s license for 12 months. The offender may also be required to participate in alcohol safety classes and substance abuse treatment programs.

What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in Pennsylvania?

A second DUI within ten (10) years in Pennsylvania is punishable by imprisonment for at least five (5) days and fines of $300 to $2,500 for general impairment. The offender must also comply with alcohol treatment requirements and complete approved alcohol highway safety programs. The DMV suspends such drivers’ licenses for 12 months. For offenders with a high blood alcohol rate, the penalties include imprisonment for at least 30 days and a fine between $1,500 and $10,000.

The DMV suspends such drivers’ licenses for 12 months. Motorists who have the highest blood alcohol level must face imprisonment for no less than 90 days and fines of no less than $1,500. Offenders in this category must also comply with treatment program requirements and approved alcohol highway safety schools. The DMV suspends these drivers’ licenses for 18 months. The law requires offenders to install ignition interlock devices for up to one (1) year.

What Happens After a Third DUI in Pennsylvania?

After a third DUI within ten (10) years, which is a second-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, offenders must pay a minimum fine of $500 and a maximum of $5,000 for general impairment. DMV may suspend the driver’s license for up to 12 months. The jail term is typically no less than ten (10) days.

Offenders with high BAC may face imprisonment for a minimum of 90 days, fines of at least $1,500, and at most $10,000. DMV may suspend the offenders’ licenses for up to 18 months. For a third DUI offense, offenders with the highest BAC may face imprisonment for no less than one (1) year and fines of at least $2,500. If the DUI involves a minor in the vehicle, imprisonment is a minimum of six (6) months and a maximum of two (2) years.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in Pennsylvania?

A DUI stays on an offender’s record for life unless the offender petitions the court for an expungement. Pennsylvania does not automatically seal or expunge records of DUI convictions. In Pennsylvania, DUI records are public, which means that the records are publicly accessible. DUI convictions also appear in the offender’s driving history, which may also be available to insurance companies. Pennsylvania provides for expungement under limited circumstances. Interested parties may follow the guideline in 18 Pa. C. S. A. § 9122

DUI Expungement in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, expungement restricts access to a record and removes it from public view. If a record is expunged, the subject of the record may deny the record under oath.

DUI expungement is only possible under certain circumstances in Pennsylvania. Non-conviction records can be expunged. It is also possible to expunge records of first-time DUI offenses provided that the offender participates in an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program. The state automatically expunged ARD records after then (10) years, but offenders may also petition the court to expunge the record before the expiration of the ten-year period. Such persons may opt for increased supervision for a maximum of two (2) years in exchange for record expungement.

To be eligible for ARD, a person must not have previous DUI charges or convictions. The offender must also not have participated in an ARD program within the last ten (10) years. Offenses that involve serious injury or death to other people are not eligible for the ARD program. If there was a minor in the car at the time of a DUI offense, the offender is not eligible to apply for ARD. DUI offenders with a BAC of 0.08% to 0.99% may also petition the court for record expungement, as this offense may be classified under summary offenses as a general impairment. It may not be possible to expunge felony DUI offenses in Pennsylvania.

Persons interested in applying for DUI expungement in Pennsylvania must do the following:

  • Request their criminal history records from the state’s repository
  • Complete the ARD program and obtain proof of completion
  • File an expungement petition with the court clerk in the county where the offense happened
  • Submit a notarized affidavit with the petition

According to 18 Pa. C. S. A. § 9122, other conditions for expungement are as follows:

  • The subject of the record has been dead for over three (3) years
  • The offender is at least 70 and has been free of convictions for the past ten (10) years.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in Pennsylvania?

Jail is not typically likely after a first DUI in Pennsylvania; however, the possibility of imprisonment depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the offense, the offender’s criminal history, and the presence of aggravating factors. Pennsylvania penalizes DUIs according to BAC tiers. According to state laws, one of the possible penalties for a first DUI offense is a jail term of up to six (6) months. Pennsylvania courts are typically lenient with first-time DUI offenders provided that their BAC is between 0.08%, which is the legal limit, and 0.10%. In place of jail terms, offenders in this category get probation, fines, mandatory alcohol treatment programs, and safety classes.

If a first-time DUI offender has a BAC of 0.10% to 0.16%, the offender may face imprisonment for up to six (6) months (38 Pa. C. S. A. § 75). The presence of a minor in the vehicle at the time of the offense may also increase the possibility of jail time for a first-time DUI offender in Pennsylvania.

What is the Average Cost of DUI in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, a DUI can cost the offender up to $10,000 or more, depending on the severity of the offense. Apart from fines, which can range up to $5,000 for a first offense, a DUI has other cost implications. Offenders may need to pay towing fees of between $75 and $175 per day. The court charges administrative fees for DUI cases, covering penalty assessment, jail-cite-and-release, copying, and other administrative costs. The cost of hiring a DUI attorney in Pennsylvania is also high. Offenders can expect to pay between $2,000 and $8,000, depending on the severity of the offense and the offender’s criminal record. Other costs to consider include:

  • Monitoring bracelets, which cost up to $400 per month.
  • Drug testing, which costs up to $250
  • Increased insurance premiums by about $1,000
  • Alcohol evaluation, which costs between $35 and $100
  • Installation and maintenance of grid interlock devices, which costs up to $2,000 per year
  • Compensation and victim assistance fees
  • Enrolment in alcohol treatment programs, which may cost up to $1,000
  • License reinstatement fees, which cost $184 for commercial vehicles and $75 for non-commercial.

How Much is Bail for a DUI in Pennsylvania?

When a person is arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania, law enforcement officers typically keep the person under surveillance to ensure that the person is not a safety risk to themselves or society. This detention may last a few hours or days, depending on the nature and severity of the person’s offense. Detained persons may be released without the need for bail or on bail. Paying bail aims to ensure a person’s attendance at court hearings on specified dates.

The court determines bail amounts in Pennsylvania. Consequently, an offender may need to attend a bail hearing. As earlier stated, the court may release an offender on non-monetary conditions, including travel restrictions, behavior, or social interaction restrictions. The court may also release an offender on recognizance. Such a person must sign an agreement to appear in court on specified dates and refrain from criminal activities. In determining the bail amount or whether to release a person on bail, the court considers the severity or nature of the offense, the offender’s flight risk, and the security risk posed to society. The court may set bail for a DUI in Pennsylvania between $150 to $2,500.

How to Get My License Back After a DUI in Pennsylvania?

A DUI conviction can render a person unable to drive due to a license suspension or revocation or a suspension of the offender’s driving privileges. Interested persons must apply to the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for reinstatement when the requesting parties become eligible. Such persons may obtain a restoration requirements letter from PennDOT online. Alternatively, interested parties may opt to receive the letter by email.

The restoration requirements letter detail each individual’s restoration requirements. As no two cases are the same, each person’s reinstatement requirements may differ. General requirements for the restoration of revoked or suspended licenses include the following:

  • Completion of the suspension or revocation period
  • Submission of the suspended or revoked license to PennDOT
  • Payment of reinstatement fees
  • Satisfaction of other court conditions, including probation and any treatment programs
  • Submission of proof of a liability car insurance

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in Pennsylvania?

Apart from court-imposed fines and imprisonment, DUI convictions can have other far-reaching consequences. It can affect employment by causing a person to lose their job or making it difficult to find a job. It can also result in losing scholarship opportunities, suspension, dismissal, or probation for students. A DUI conviction may result in a loss of the offender’s driving license or driving privileges. Persons convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances may be subjected to increased insurance premiums indefinitely. Some insurance providers may even terminate the offender’s policy contract.

DUI offenders in Pennsylvania must attend Highway Safety School and will have a permanent misdemeanor record. Offenders may be required to install ignition interlock devices and pay other associated costs. Given the potential long-term effects of a DUI conviction, it can put unnecessary stress on an offender’s personal relationships.

Can You Get Fired for a DUI in Pennsylvania?

Yes, a person can get fired for a DUI in Pennsylvania. Being an at-will employment state, either the employer or employee may terminate employment at any time and for any reason, provided the reason is not discriminatory or otherwise against the law. This has serious implications for DUI offenders as employers may dismiss or terminate any employee convicted or even charged with a DUI.

Generally, whether a person gets fired depends on the nature of the person’s offense and the employer’s policy on such matters. DUI conviction can have long-term employment effects. For employers that conduct background checks before hiring, a DUI conviction may deter hiring a particular candidate. In occupations that require professional licenses, such as healthcare, a DUI conviction may result in the loss or revocation of the license. Other occupations where a DUI could result in a dismissal include education/teaching, accounting, and commercial driving. A DUI conviction can also make it difficult to find employment subsequently.

How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in Pennsylvania?

DUI checkpoints are legal in Pennsylvania. However, the law requires that the checkpoints be conducted properly. Officers must follow state laws and pre-determine operation methods. For example, Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies must advertise any DUI checkpoints in the media and with signs at the location. Law enforcement agents must pre-determine the criteria for stopping motorists so that there is no prejudice or profiling. While law enforcement officers conduct stops at DUI checkpoints, there must be administrative approval for the checkpoints. Law enforcement administrators determine criteria for stopping motorists and plan other details related to the checkpoint. When police officers stop motorists at a DUI checkpoint, the officers ask a few questions. If an officer has reason to believe that a motorist is driving under the influence of alcohol, the officer may ask the motorist to take a field sobriety test.

Motorists may refuse to submit to field sobriety tests in Pennsylvania; however, motorists may not refuse post-arrest or chemical tests. Law enforcement officers may not search motorists at DUI stops. Persons interested in finding DUI checkpoints in Pennsylvania may consult local law enforcement or third-party websites.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWI?

DUI and DWI are both offenses that involve driving in an inebriated state or while the driver’s physical or mental abilities are impaired. In some jurisdictions, DUI and DWI are different offenses, and in those jurisdictions, a DWI is worse. A DWI typically involves a higher level of inebriation and carries slightly harsher penalties than DUIs.

Pennsylvania officially adopts the term DUI. The state’s Zero Tolerance law does not allow for any amount of alcohol in motorists or drivers under the age of 21. The state also has an implied consent law, also known as the O’Connell Warnings, which states that anyone who drives or is issued a driver’s license in the state is presumed to have agreed to chemical testing. Persons who refuse to submit to testing may face civil penalties. Upon testing, persons with a BAC above the legal limit may face criminal and civil consequences, including jail terms and a loss of driving privileges.