In September 2003, Pennsylvania passed Act 24 into law. This important piece of legislation lowered the legal blood alcohol content, or BAC, limit for drivers from .10 percent to .08 percent. It also created three different tiers of DUI charges dependent on the BAC of the driver. Drivers who are found to have a BAC of .08 to .099 are charged with “general impairment.” If the BAC is .10 percent to .159 percent, the driver is charged with “high BAC DUI,” and if the BAC is greater than 0.16 percent, a driver is charged with a “highest BAC DUI.” These charges differ in the severity of their penalties.
Pennsylvania also has a “drugged driving” charge that applies to motorists if any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolite is present in their blood. Drivers can also be charged if they are under the influence of prescription drugs that render them unable to drive safely. Pennsylvania DUI laws do not currently have any legal provisions for medical marijuana use, but drivers must have a minimum level of one nanogram per milliliter of THC or its metabolites in their blood to be charged.
Pennsylvania DUI laws include an implied consent statute, which stipulates that a driver automatically consents to testing by acceptance and use of his or her driver’s license in operation of a vehicle. Refusal of a test results in a suspension of one’s driver’s license for six to 18 months. Refusal can also be used as evidence against you in court.
The court ruling of Commonwealth v. Woodruff in 1995 establishes a unique definition for “operation” of a vehicle as pertains to implied consent in Pennsylvania. A driver may use a vehicle as shelter without being subject to a test for intoxicants so long as the motor is not running and there is no evidence that the vehicle had been operated recently. For example, if an intoxicated driver came out of a bar and immediately went to sleep in his or her car without putting the keys in the ignition, a police officer would not have probable cause to test for intoxicants as there would be nothing to indicate the vehicle had been operated while the driver was intoxicated.
Pennsylvania is one of only seven states in which multiple DUI charges never escalate to a felony level. They are always misdemeanors punishable by a maximum of five years in jail. DUI only rises to the level of a felony in Pennsylvania if someone else is seriously injured or killed in the course of the DWI. A felony conviction for DUI in Pennsylvania carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a maximum fine of $25,000.
Recent Changes to Pennsylvania DUI Law
In 2012, Pennsylvania altered grading of penalties for DUI to factor in the age of occupants of the vehicle. If a minor under the age of 18 is present in the vehicle, the DUI becomes a first-degree misdemeanor regardless of the number of previous offenses or any other factors. It also carries a longer potential jail sentence. The minimum fine is increased to $1,000, and there is a mandatory minimum of 100 hours of community service imposed as well.