Driving Under the Influence Overview

Pennsylvania DUI Laws

Pennsylvania law, like the law in all states, has severe penalties for persons convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. In most cases, a conviction for DUI carries with it mandatory jail time, a lengthy license suspension and a criminal record that can never be expunged. Fortunately, for first time offenders, Pennsylvania counties are permitted to enact an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition Program (ARD Program) that enables a person to avoid jail, a lengthy license suspension and can result in a complete expungement of your criminal record.

It is important to hire a DUI defense attorney who understands the rights and options of anyone accused of a DUI and has the experience to earn you the best possible result.

I am Henry Hilles and I have been practicing criminal law — first as a prosecutor and now as a defense attorney — since 1996. Over the years I have represented hundreds of people charged with a DUI — from all different walks of life — and am prepared and able to represent anyone facing DUI charges. My experience as a prosecutor at the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office taught me how prosecutors evaluate and prepare DUI (and all) cases which has been invaluable to me in my private practice.

I have helped many people obtain a positive result following a DUI arrrest. Please contact the Law Office of Henry S. Hilles, III at 610-270-8800 or click here so that we may review and discuss your rights and options.

PENNSYLVANIA DUI LAWS AND BAC (BLOOD ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION) LIMITS

ALL DRIVERS — BAC LIMIT = 0.08%

In the Commonwealth of PA it is crime for ANY driver to drive with a BAC (blood alcohol content / concentration) of 0.08% and above.

COMMERCIAL DRIVERS (drivers with a CDL License) — BAC LIMIT = 0.04%

In the Commonwealth of PA, it is a crime for commercial vehicle operators (people with a CDL license operating a commercial vehicle) to drive with a BAC (blood alcohol content / concentration) of 0.04% or above.

MINORS (defined as under the age of 21, not 18) — BAC LIMIT = 0.02% 

In the Commonwealth of PA, it is a crime for persons under 21 years of age to drive with a BAC (blood alcohol content / concentration) of 0.02% or above.

ESCALATING PENALTIES FOR DUI IN PA

In Pennsylvania, people convicted of DUI face mandatory minimum penalties. These mandatory minimums increase for people who have have prior DUI convictions. By PA law, admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition Program (ARD Program) counts as a prior DUI conviction even though the successful completion of ARD is not, legally, a conviction.

The following chart sets forth a summary of the mandatory minimum sentences for DUI convictions in PA.

First Offense (DUI/Drunk Driving)

Blood Alcohol Content

0.08 – .099%

0.10 – .159%

0.16% and above

Minimum Sentence

n/a

2 days

3 days

Maximum Sentence

n/a

6 months

6 months

License Suspension

n/a

12 months

12 months

Second Offense (DUI/Drunk Driving)

Blood Alcohol Content

0.08 – .099%

0.10 – .159%

0.16% and above

Minimum Sentence

5 days

30 days

90 days

Maximum Sentence

6 months

6 months

5 years

License Suspension

12 months

12 months

12 months

Third Offense (DUI/Drunk Driving)

Blood Alcohol Content

0.08 – .099%

0.10 – .159%

0.16% and above

Minimum Sentence

10 days

90 days

1 year

Maximum Sentence

2 years

5 years

5 years

License Suspension

12 months

18 months

18 months

Fourth and Subsequent Offense (DUI/Drunk Driving)

Blood Alcohol Content

0.08 – .099%

0.10 – .159%

0.16% and above

Minimum Sentence

10 days

1 year

1 year

Maximum Sentence

2 years

5 years

5 years

License Suspension

12 months

18 months

18 months

Pennsylvania DUI Convictions and “Collateral Consequences”

Collateral consequences, or ramifications, are legal sanctions and restrictions imposed upon people because of something on their record or a specific conviction. A consequent is “collateral” as opposed to direct, because it is not directly intended as a result of the guilty plea or conviction.

DUI convictions in PA have a number of collateral consequences. By law, PennDOT must suspend a person’s driver’s license as a result of a conviction for DUI or a drug conviction. This license suspension is not a direct result of the plea — that is, it is not part of the plea bargain or sentence. It is a collateral consequence of the conviction — an indirect result of the DUI plea.

DUI offenses have collateral consequences that have a tremendous effect on people. PennDOT will suspend your license as a result of a DUI conviction and people with out-of-state driver’s licenses face license suspensions as well. In addition, anyone convicted of a second or subsequent DUI face longer license suspensions and ignition interlock requirements.

The ARD Program — Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition

Sometimes the best result in a DUI case is admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD Program). The ARD Program is a pretrial intervention program that is designed to divert first-time offenders (typically DUI or Retail Theft (shoplifting) defendants) from the criminal justice track. If a person is admitted into the ARD Program and successfully completes all the terms and conditions, the charges are legally dismissed and can be expunged from the person’s criminal record.

It is important to hire a Montgomery County, PA criminal defense attorney to determine whether admission into the ARD Program may be an option for you. If you are charged with a DUi or any crime, it is essential to understand whether you can emerge from the situation with and ARD result and a subsequent expungement.

Please feel free to contact Blue Bell ARD Lawyer Henry Hilles at 610-270-8800 or click here to discuss whether admission into the ARD Program may be right for you.

Pennsylvania Drugged Driving Laws

In recent years the use of prescription drugs, such as antidepressant, antianxiety and pain medications, has become increasingly prevalent in Montgomery County, PA and throughout the country. With that, there has been a significant increase in charges for drugged driving. These include both legal (properly prescribed) drugs — such as Percocet, Oxycodone, Vicodin, muscle relaxers and sleeping medications such as Ambien and Lunesta, and illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

Many people do not realize that under Pennsylvania DUI law, you can be convicted of a DUI if you only under the influence of prescription medication (and no alcohol at all). If you are facing DUI charges under these circumstances, please feel free to contact Hatboro DUI Defense Lawyer Henry S. Hilles, III at 610-270-8800 or click here to discuss your case.

Experienced and Thorough DUI Defense Attorney

As a DUI and drug defense lawyer for many years, I regularly represent clients charged with driving under the influence of prescription or illegal drugs. I believe that my experience as a former prosecutor in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office — Major Crimes Unit helps me in representing people charged with DUI and other offenses. I understand how prosecutors prepare their cases and am confident that I can identify weaknesses and/or opportunities to negotiate a positive result on behalf of my clients.

Although many cases result in negotatiated guilty pleas (or admission into the ARD Program), I have represented many clients who decided to take the case to trial. There is no doubt that prosecutors know when a defense attorney is ready — and able — to take a case to trial. When prosecutors understand that a defense attorney is ready to try a case if necessary, they are far more likely to “meet in the middle” and offer more favorable guilty plea proposals.

Feel free to call Lansdale Pennsylvania DUI Attorney Henry Hilles at 610-270-8800 to discuss your rights and options.

Prescription Drugs and Illegal Recreational Drugs

Under Pennsylvania DUI law, any drug or controlled substance (such as prescription medication) is considered to be a narcotic and results in a DUI in the highest tier (along with DUIs with a blood alcohol content of .16 percent or greater). Therefore, if you have been arrested for driving under the influence of prescription drugs or illegal recreational drugs (such as marijuana) you could face mandatory DUI sentences including jail time and a lengthy  license suspension.

It is important to contact a Montgomery County, PA DUI Defense Lawyer if you have been charged with DUI involving either alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription medication.

DUI Defense in Montgomery County, PA — Aggressive and Thorough

If you are charged with DUI as a result of having alcohol, prescribed medication or illegal drugs in your system, you face a strong legal challenge that I am well-equipped to handle on your behalf. I will comb through every aspect of the evidence against you, using my many years of experience in the field of criminal law as both a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney.

A good DUI alcohol or drug defense involves a criminal defense lawyer who knows how to take every potential piece of evidence against you and examine it thoroughly for mistakes, weaknesses or technical flaws. In the case of controlled substances that have been legally prescribed, I will make it clear to the prosecution that your medication may actually result in your ability to function — and operate a motor vehicle — on a better level.

One step I frequently take is to engage a toxicologist to evaluate the BAC and/or drug toxicity levels to determine whether any prescribed drug was at a therapeutic level. Other areas of attack include the following:

  • Did the officer perform an illegal search and seizure?
  • How did you come to be pulled over, and was the stop legal?
  • Did you feel intimidated by the police at any point in the process?

I have noted over the years that in virtually every DUI case, I am representing a good person caught in a difficult situation. DUIs are a crime that just about anybody can commit (unless you don’t drink or use prescribed medication) and almost everybody facing this charge is very remorseful and determined to make positive change in the future. People in this situation need an attorney who will understand their situation and is prepared to aggressive defend the DUI charge or, if appropriate, seek out the best negotiated resolution (such as admission into the ARD Program).

Why Hire Blue Bell DUI Lawyer Henry S. Hilles III

My extensive experience dealing with PA drunk driving laws includes years of experience as a criminal defense lawyer and as a former Montgomery County prosecutor. I know the laws, courts and local court procedures and I know how the prosecution prepares its case against those arrested for DUI. I use this knowledge to prepare a strong defense strategy for each client.

Contact a Blue Bell DUI Defense Attorney

If you are facing a DUI charge, you should exercise your right to appropriate legal representation and hire a criminal defense lawyer who can help you get the best possible result. At the Law Office of Henry Hilles, I have an extensive legal background in DUI cases — based on my years as a prosecutor in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office and as defense attorney for many years– and am ready and willing to represent you to make sure you get the best possible result on your DUI case.

One difficulty with Pennsylvania DUI laws is that the higher the alcohol content in your blood, the more sever the penalty is is you are convicted of DUI. However PA law — and the Consitution — require the police and prosecutors to follow follow the rules in making arrests and preparing cases for prosecution. It is important to have a criminal defense attorney who knows the rules and laws and is able to identify possible defense issues.

I can help you understand your options regarding DUI cases and seek to minimize the consequences of your DUI arrest. Topics for discussion with every client include the following:

  • Is there evidence that ought to be thrown out?
  • Do you need to fight through to trial?
  • Are there extenuating circumstances relating to your DUI situation?
  • Do you need to have a car to keep your job and your family life stable?
  • Were you truly impaired and DUI?
  • Is the Pennsylvania ARD Program an option for you?

I work closely with clients to identify potential defenses and/or the best possible negotiated result. I pride myself on taking time to explain various options to my clients and return phone calls and emails quickly. Please feel free to contact the Law Office of Henry S. Hilles, III at 610-270-8800 or click here to discuss your case.

Defending DUI Cases in PA

PA DUI Laws — Field Sobriety Tests

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests were developed as the result of research conducted in the mid 1970s for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). The purpose of this research was to develop standardized tests which would provide a reliable method of determining intoxication from field sobriety tests.

The NHTSA has concluded that three tests, if systematically conducted according to strict guidelines, can predict whether a person may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The only three field sobriety tests approved by the NHTSA are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) test, the Walk-and-Turn test the One-Leg Stand test.

Police officers are theoretically trained to look for established “scoring factors” or “clues” which must be evaluated in determining whether or not intoxication exists. A finding of intoxication can only arise once a certain number of clues are identified. If less then the certain level of clues are identified, the officer should conclude that there a high degree of probability of non-intoxication.

For cases that proceed to trial, it is important for defense counsel to carefully question police officers with respect to their field sobriety test training and adherence to NHTSA protocols. If a police officer is unsure of these protocols and/or the NHTSA-approved indicator system, his or her conclusions can lose credibility with a judge or jury.

1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) Test

Horizontal gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyeball which occurs naturally as the eyes rotate in the socket. In theory, a sober person can visually follow a moving object smoothly and without the eyeball “stopping and starting”. With a person is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated resulting in a jerking motion as the eyes rotate. In the HGN test, the officer observes a person’s eyes as the eyes follow a slowly moving object such as a pen or small flashlight. The examiner looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye: if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center. The NHTSA has concluded that if, between the two eyes, four or more “clues” appear, the suspect likely has a BAC of 0.10 or greater.

It is important to note that even the NHTSA acknowledges that the HGN testing allows for the proper classification of only 77 percent of suspects. That is, the HGN test will result in many false positives and cannot be considered a reliable indicator of intoxication. Indeed, the HGN is not admissible in Pennsylvania courts although police are permitted to use the test to establish probable cause to arrest. People taking medication such as seizure and psychiatric medication may also “fail” the HGN test even though they are not intoxicated.

2. Walk-and-Turn Test

In the walk-and-turn test, the subject is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner looks for seven possible indicators, or “clues”, of impairment. If two or more clues are identified, a person is considered to be likely intoxicated.

It is important to note that even the NHTSA concedes that only 68 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.10 or greater. It is also important to note whether a person has some reason unrelated to intoxication – such as a physical disability, high-heeled shoes, use of prescribed medication, obesity, advanced age – that makes it more difficult to complete the test. It is very important to point out these issues to a judge or jury when a case goes to trial.

3. One-Leg Stand Test

In the one-leg stand test, a person is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The NHTSA protocols call for the officer to observe the subject 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment, including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down.

Prosecutors sometimes argue that a person’s “failure” of field sobriety tests such as the one-leg stand test conclusively prove a person’s intoxication. However the NHTSA itself admits that only 65 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more such indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.10 of greater. And, like the walk-and-turn test, there are many factors other then intoxication that can make it difficult for a person to stand on one foot for 30 seconds.

It is important to carefully examine field sobriety test evidence. In many – if not most – instances, police officers do not administer the test in full compliance with NHTSA guidelines. For example, an officer’s opinion should be considered suspect if he uses improper scoring criteria, was improperly trained, incorrectly instructed the suspect on how to perform the test or did not use the standardized methodology in performing the tests. Cross-examining police officers with their own training manuals frequently exposes their lack of knowledge and skill in conducting these tests. At trial, all of these factors must be fully explored so that a judge and/or jury understand the fallibility of field sobriety testing.

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Testing Laws Pennsylvania

In Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, there are generally two methods by which the police will test a DUI suspect’s blood alcohol content: through a breath test or through a direct blood test. In each case, there are a number of specific legal procedures and protocols that the police must follow. Failure to follow these specific procedures and protocols can result in the dismissal of a DUI case or a reduction of the charges.

Breath Test Defense: Breath Tests Can Be Considered Unreliable

It is important to retain a lawyer who is familiar with these DUI blood-testing procedures and protocols and the various steps the police must strictly follow. Issues and concerns that need to be addresses in court are:

  • Was the test properly given?
  • Was the person who administered the test properly trained?
  • Has the breath test machine been properly tested and maintained?
  • Is there other evidence that can refute that you were intoxicated?

You can be confident that as your DUI defense attorney I will explore every aspect of the prosecution’s case against you as I seek to refute or minimize the DUI charges against you.

What Can Be Wrong With DUI Blood Alcohol Tests (BAC)?

A Conshohocken DUI defense lawyer must understand the steps the police must follow to properly test for a person’s blood alcohol content. As an example, the police cannot permit an unreasonable time to pass between your arrest and the administration of the blood alcohol test. If considerable time passes between the stopping of your vehicle and the actual blood test, more alcohol can be absorbed into your system, which can make your BAC substantially higher than it was when you were driving.

It is important to examine any blood alcohol testing evidence closely, because even toxicologists agree that there is a potential margin of error that often can help fight charges of driving while under the influence (DUI). This is an area of the law in which I have considerable knowledge and am often able to argue persuasively on behalf of a client charged with DUI.

Please remember that you are not guilty just because the police say so. Please call an Montgomery County DUI Defense Attorney who is experienced in handling DUI defense. I will explore every avenue that may be available to challenge the blood alcohol content (BAC) or any other evidence against you in your DUI case.

PA DUI Law — Reasonable Grounds

Pennsylvania state law provides that the police may not perform a chemical test of a driver’s blood alcohol content (i.e., a breath test or a blood test) unless there is “reasonable grounds” to believe that the driver was operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The police use field sobriety tests to help develop these “reasonable grounds” to submit motorists to chemical testing.

By law, people who drive a vehicle in Pennsylvania are deemed to have given their consent to providing a breath, blood or urine sample when requested to do so by the police if (and only if) the police have reasonable grounds and have arrested the person for DUI. Motorists who refuse chemical testing (assuming reasonable grounds to arrest exist) will have their license suspended for at least one year by PennDOT, and the fact that they “refused” the test may be used them at trial.

Whether a person is seeking admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program or headed toward trial, it is important to carefully examine whether the police appropriately developed “reasonable grounds” to believe a driver may have committed a DUI. Where “reasonable grounds” are found not to exist, all subsequent chemical testing may be suppressed.

Alcohol is absorbed into the body through the stomach and small intestine over a considerable period of time. Alcohol has no physiological effect on the body or brain until it is absorbed into the blood stream. This absorption can take anywhere from 30 minutes, in the case of a dilute beverage and an empty stomach, to 2 to 6 hours with some beverages and a full stomach. Food in the stomach markedly delays the absorption of alcohol and reduces the peak level of blood-alcohol content as compared to a person with an empty stomach. Also, the ingredients in beer act like a food and delay the absorption of the alcohol found in beer. Alcohol is eliminated from the body at anywhere between 0.010 to 0.019 grams/deciliter/hour or 0.010 to 0.019 % per hour. The average person eliminates alcohol at approximately 0.015 % per hour.

Types of Blood Alcohol Testing

The two most common chemical blood tests are blood testing and breath testing. A third type, urine testing, is rarely used in PA.

1. Blood Testing

Pennsylvania law requires hospitals and the physicians, nurses and technicians employed by hospitals to withdraw blood samples on DUI suspects unless there are emergency situations at the hospital at the time the request is made. Pennsylvania law also requires that blood (and urine) tests be performed at licensed and approved clinical laboratories using approved testing methods and equipment.

It is important to carefully examine blood test results to determine if the variance or margin of error may include the possibility that the true blood-alcohol content was in a lower tier or below 0.08 percent altogether. If a person’s blood-alcohol content is tested to be, say, 0.10 percent, no toxicologist (or prosecutor) can say with any certainty that the person’s actual blood alcohol concentration was above or below this level. Virtually every toxicologist will concede that there is a variance of 3 to 10 percent within which the actual blood alcohol content would likely fall.

Importantly, the Department of Health requires laboratories conducting blood-alcohol testing to test within 9 percent of a “known sample” in order to maintain their accreditation. Accordingly, many toxicologists contend that the margin of error of blood testing at such accredited labs should be presumed to be no less that 9 percent.

Even if someone elects to seek admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program or plead guilty to DUI it is important to evaluate whether the documented blood-alcohol content can be reduced using a margin-of-error analysis. Anyone charged with DUI should carefully review all of these issues with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

2. Breath Testing

Police frequently test blood-alcohol content by subjecting the motorist to a “breathalyzer” machine. These machines are different from — and much more sophisticated than — the “portable breath test” units police use to test blood-alcohol content at the scene of the stop. To be admissible at trial, breath tests must be conducted in conformity with regulations set forth by PennDOT. These regulations require the machine to be regularly calibrated, the person operating the test to be certified, a 20-minute observation period prior to the testing, and two breath samples taken within a prescribed period of time. The two breath test results must be within 0.02 percent of each other. A failure of the police to comply with any of these regulations can result in the results being suppressed (ruled inadmissible) at trial.

As with blood testing, breath test results have a margin of error that should be considered in determining a person’s actual blood-alcohol content. Persons charged with DUI must discuss these important issues with their attorney.

Restoring Your Driving Privileges Following A DUI Case

People who have lost their driver’s license due to a DUI conviction or a chemical test refusal need to address problems like getting to work, the potential loss of their job depending on their profession, and getting their kids, spouse or parents to school and medical or other appointments without a license.

Protect Your Driver’s Privileges

When people call my law office for help regarding a DUI, they are frequently most concerned about keeping their driver’s license. My name is Henry Hilles, and I am a DUI and criminal defense attorney in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. I have represented hundreds of clients in their efforts to protect or restore their driver’s privileges or to obtain an occupational limited driver’s license.

If you have already been notified by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) that your license is suspended for a DUI violation or chemical test refusal, it is important to speak with an attorney immediately to determine whether it makes sense to file an appeal of the suspension. Any such appeal must typically be filed within 30 days of the notice of the suspension, so it is important to act quickly in consulting a lawyer. I can help.

Chemical test “refusals.”

Motorists have a right to be informed of the consequences of refusing to take the blood or breath test. If the police do not properly advise the motorist, the one-year PennDOT suspension cannot stand. However, the only way to enforce your rights is to appeal the PennDOT suspension.

If you have been accused of refusing a chemical test, contact an attorney immediately. Call me, Plymouth Meeting Pennsylvania DUI Refusal Attorney Henry Hilles at 610-270-8800 or click here to discuss your case.

Zealously Representing DUI Clients in Montgomery County, PA

For many of my clients, being accused of drunk driving is one of the most humiliating experiences of their lives. They are treated like criminals and sometimes spend the night in jail. And unfortunately, the nightmare continues, because they also face potentially steep consequences that could lessen their freedom and affect the rest of their lives. It does not have to be that way.

My name is Henry Hilles and, as a Hatfield DUI defense attorney, I understand the legal and personal challenges you face following a DUI arrest. I am a former Montgomery County prosecutor who has been a lawyer for over 20 years. I can evaluate your case and provide you with zealous representation to make sure you obtain the best possible result.

I Will Be Your DUI Lawyer — Not an Associate

When you work with my law office, I will handle your case with tact, confidentiality and care at every stage of the legal process. You will not be dealing with an associate — if I decide to take your case you will only deal with me. This is important because representation in a criminal case is a person matter. Clients do not like opening up to one lawyer and then finding themselves represented in court by another.

At my Norristown, Montgomery County PA law firm, you may be certain that, as your lawyer, I will take every step to protect your reputation as I prepare a strong defense on your behalf and prepare, if necessary, to challenge your DUI. I can analyze chemical tests and prepare your case based on the unique facts of your case. My goal is to help you avoid a Pennsylvania DUI criminal record.

You Are More Than Your Arrest

You and I will get to know each other so that I can help the prosecutor see that you are far more than just another “DUI arrest.” I help advocate for you so that the prosecutor and the judge can see the positive aspects of your character — as a family member, a provider for your family, a productive working member of society, a member of your community or religious group, etc. It is my job to help the system see you as more than just a DUI case so that they understand that jailing you may not be in your family’s or society’s best interests.

Call Montgomery County PA DUI Lawyer Henry Hilles at 610-270-8800

Or email me at hilles@comcast.net