Driving under the influence can change lives in an instant. In Pennsylvania alone, alcohol-related impairment accounts for nearly 30 percent of all traffic fatalities. But even in cases where there is no accident or death, a DUI arrest can have far-reaching implications for your wallet, your freedom, and your future. As any good DUI lawyer or ARD attorney knows, even the most lenient first-time sentences carry fines and probation, and some can also include license suspension and jail time.
Lancaster County drivers who find themselves among the thousands of DUI statistics in Pennsylvania each year should hire a DUI attorney to help navigate the process and mitigate long-term consequences. Here are some important terms you should know:
ARD or Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition
ARD is a program for first-time offenders. A qualified ARD attorney or DUI lawyer can help offenders determine if they qualify for this program. Drivers arrested in Pennsylvania for driving under the influence may qualify for the ARD program if they have insurance and a relatively clean driving record, they did not cause injury to people or damage to property, and they have not been charged with DUI in the past 10 years. They may not qualify if they had a passenger under the age of 14. The ARD program may include community service, restitution, probation, a safety course, and other requirements. After completing the ARD program, drivers can request that all agencies, including the police and the courts, remove the charge from their records.
BAC or Blood Alcohol Level
Blood alcohol level is the percentage of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream after drinking. It is measured in milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. Many factors can affect the concentration of alcohol in the blood, including a person’s sex, weight, and physical condition, what they’ve eaten and when, medications, and the alcohol content of the drinks. Pennsylvania considers drivers impaired if they have a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or greater.
The government regulates the possession and use of certain drugs, known as controlled substances. Some controlled substances are legal to use under a doctor’s supervision or for scientific research. Others are illegal and have no approved medical use. Pennsylvania classifies controlled substances in five schedules, ranging from the most dangerous drugs that carry the greatest chance of abuse and addiction to less dangerous substances with medical value.
DUI or Driving Under the Influence
DUI is the crime of operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. This is a serious crime in Pennsylvania, so it’s wise to involve a DUI lawyer as early as possible.
Most DUI arrests in Pennsylvania are misdemeanors. However, when driving under the influence causes serious injury or death, it can result in felony DUI charges that carry harsher penalties and even prison time.
Highway Safety Classes
Highway safety classes are mandatory for first- and second-time DUI offenders as well as those in the ARD program. The classes educate about alcohol and controlled substances, their effect on metabolism and judgment, identifying and treating drug and alcohol addiction, and highway safety. The goal is to change the way attendees think about driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
This device, which connects to a car’s ignition, uses a breath sample to screen the alcohol content of the driver and prevents the car from starting if it detects alcohol in the blood. Pennsylvania law requires the use of ignition interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders with high blood alcohol levels, repeat DUI offenders and individuals who refuse chemical testing.
A driver is impaired if they’ve consumed alcohol or drugs to the point where they cannot safely drive, operate, or control a vehicle. Under Pennsylvania law, you can face a conviction of general impairment if your blood alcohol level is greater than 0.08 but less than 0.10 within two hours after driving.
Implied Consent Law
In Pennsylvania, getting a driver’s license means you automatically consent to chemical testing for blood alcohol content or the presence of controlled substances if an officer legally stops you for suspicion of driving under the influence. Under the implied consent law, refusal to submit to chemical testing may result in penalties, including license suspension and fines.
License suspension is one of the possible penalties a Lancaster County driver might receive after a DUI conviction. Under a suspension, the DUI offender may not drive for a specified amount of time, which may vary depending on factors such as blood-alcohol level and prior offenses. Following the suspension period, the driver can apply to have the license reinstated.
In Pennsylvania, drivers arrested for DUI within 10 years of a previous DUI conviction are considered repeat offenders and may receive harsher penalties than first-time offenders. That 10-year period, known as the lookback period, begins at the time of sentencing for the first DUI conviction.
Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies, but they can still carry jail time and fines. Pennsylvania classifies misdemeanors in three categories that vary based on the severity of the offense and the penalties. In Pennsylvania, most DUI offenses are misdemeanors, unless they involve serious injury or loss of life. Whether a person is facing a DUI felony or misdemeanor, a DUI attorney can help the accused prepare to face these serious charges.
In Pennsylvania, prior DUI offenses are important because they can affect the severity of the mandatory minimum sentence for a new DUI conviction. While the state has a lookback period for determining whether someone is a first-time or repeat offender, that does not mean a judge cannot consider all prior offenses – even those occurring more than 10 years before the current offense – when determining a sentence. It should be noted that, while completing an ARD program will remove the charge from your records, an ARD is still considered a prior offense should you have another DUI arrest.
Probation is an alternative to jail time, but it generally carries a strict set of rules and restrictions that may include alcohol and drug testing, alcohol abuse treatment, community service, payment of all fines, highway safety training, and regular meetings with a probation officer. A judge will specify the length of probation time. Violating any of the conditions of probation could result in jail time.
In addition to penalties, Pennsylvania’s DUI laws also put a focus on treatment for first-time offenders. Based on blood alcohol level, prior offenses, and the results of a pre-screening, the law may require a full drug and alcohol assessment before a DUI sentencing. Depending on the results of that assessment, a judge may order substance abuse treatment as part of a DUI sentence, with the goal of preventing a repeat offense.
Pennsylvania classifies DUI misdemeanors by degree, with third-degree being the least serious and first degree the most severe. Factors such as previous DUI offenses and blood-alcohol levels can result in an upgrade to a more serious misdemeanor that carries stiffer penalties.
If you’ve been arrested for DUI in Lancaster County, you may face stiff fines and penalties. If you are a first-time offender, ARD may be an option for you, but admittance is at the discretion of the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office and the sentencing judge.
Contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster today. If you’re looking for a DUI or an ARD lawyer, we can review your case and gather the evidence and support necessary to gain approval for the program. Or, if you feel you’ve been wrongly charged, we can help you decide whether to fight the charges or try to minimize the penalties.
To learn more, check out this Going and Plank blog on DUIs and ARDs.
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