Laws & Penalties for a First Offense DUI in Pennsylvania

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In the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a first driving under the influence (DUI) conviction can have different penalties, depending on the level of intoxication of the offender. In this state, driving under the influence involves driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent and above, according to Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (PCS) Chapter 38. A general impairment DUI charge is one where the driver has a BAC level of 0.08 to 0.099 percent; a high BAC DUI is where the driver has a BAC level of 0.10 to 0.159 percent; and a highest BAC DUI is one where a driver has a BAC level of 0.16 percent or above.

First DUI Is a Misdemeanor

A first general impairment DUI, a first high BAC DUI and a first highest BAC DUI are all considered to be ungraded misdemeanors. This type of misdemeanor allows the court to sentence the defendant to a penalty appropriate to the offense. A defendant can be charged with a more serious level of offense, such as a first-degree misdemeanor, if they engaged in another wrongful act while committing the DUI.

For example, it is a first-degree misdemeanor to drive under the influence with a minor under the age of 18 in the vehicle when the driver has no more than one prior DUI offense. A sentence for a DUI committed under these circumstances carries penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Penalties for a First DUI

The penalties for a first general impairment DUI include a $300 fine, alcohol highway safety school, treatment when ordered, and up to six months of probation, according to PCS Chapter 38. A first-time general impairment DUI offender is not punished with jail time. This does not mean that the individual with the DUI conviction will be allowed to drive away in their vehicle after they have been arrested.

The offender will likely see their car towed and impounded following their arrest. Additional penalties for a first DUI include attendance at a victim impact panel, community service, cost of alcohol highway safety school, and more.

The penalties for a first high BAC DUI include between two days and six months in jail; a fine ranging between $500 and $5,000; one-year driver’s license suspension; alcohol highway safety school; and treatment when ordered. The penalties for a first highest BAC DUI include between three days and six months in jail; a fine between $1,000 and $5,000; alcohol highway safety school; one-year driver’s license suspension; and treatment when ordered.

Penalties for Underage DUI

Pennsylvania has a zero tolerance law that applies to drivers under 21. A minor cannot drive with a BAC of 0.02 or above. A minor convicted of a first DUI involving a BAC between 0.02 to 0.079 percent will suffer penalties of two days to six months in jail; a fine between $500 and $5,000; alcohol highway safety school; treatment if ordered; and a 90-day driver’s license suspension. A minor between the ages of 18 and 20 with a BAC of 0.08 percent or above may be charged with the DUI offense that correlates with their level of intoxication.

Pennsylvania Occupational Limited License (OLL)

A first-time DUI offender may be eligible for an Occupational Limited License (OLL), which reinstates some driving privileges to allow the individual to travel to work, school and treatment facilities. An individual who does not have a Pennsylvania driver’s license is not eligible for the program, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. A first-time DUI offender, including a first-time underage drinking violator, may be eligible for an OLL after serving 60 days of suspension.

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD)

Only first-time drunk driving offenders are eligible for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), a pretrial diversion program. An individual is eligible to participate in the ARD program if they have no prior criminal convictions or prior ARD dispositions. If an applicant is approved, they are placed on probation, ordered to pay fines and costs, and must complete community service. After the individual successfully completes the ARD program, they can petition the court to expunge their record, according to Montgomery County’s Montgomery County ARD.

What Is the Pennsylvania DUI Look-back Period?

Pennsylvania’s "look-back" period for a prior DUI is 10 years. This means any DUI committed within 10 years prior to the date of the offense for which the defendant is being sentenced will count as a prior DUI, according to PCS Chapter 38. When a prior DUI is outside the 10-year look-back period, a defendant’s sentence or plea offer for the subsequent offense will contain the penalties appropriate for a first DUI, even if it is a second offense. The DUI penalties will correlate with the level of intoxication for their current DUI. A defendant should not expect their current plea offer or sentence for a second DUI offense to be as lenient as the plea offer or sentence for their very first DUI.

Does an Out-of-state DUI Count as a Prior DUI?

An out-of-state DUI counts if the DUI laws of the other state are substantially similar to Pennsylvania’s DUI laws. Generally, the out-of-state DUI will count if it involved a BAC of 0.08 percent or above for an adult or a BAC of 0.02 percent or above for a driver under 21. Pennsylvania’s standards for a DUI are strict, but some states have an even stricter policy – they may not allow an underage driver to have consumed any alcohol at all. A defendant over 21 with an out-of-state DUI that involves impaired driving with a BAC under 0.08 percent should consult legal counsel.

Penalties for a First DUI Refusal

The penalties for a first-time refusal of a breath or chemical test following a valid DUI arrest include between three days and six months incarceration, a fine between $1,000 and $5,000, alcohol highway safety school, and a 12-month license suspension. There are two types of refusals, express and implied. An express refusal requires the driver to clearly say “no” to the test.

An implied refusal involves the driver refusing to take the test based on a health concern, for example. A law enforcement officer can provide only one option to a driver who is physically unable to take that test, and they can still record the driver as having refused the test.

For example, the law enforcement officer could offer and allow the driver to take a blood test instead. Yet the law enforcement officer is not required to state this information. They can simply record the driver’s explanation of being physically unable to take the breath test as a refusal.