Driving Under the Influence DUI/DWI

Driving Under The Influence Lawyers MontCo.

If you have been stopped for DUI in Montgomery County, PA, or any of the surrounding southeast Pennsylvania counties, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights and options. As a former prosecutor in Montgomery County, PA (in the Major Crimes Unit), and now as a criminal defense attorney, I have handled literally hundreds of DUI cases in Pennsylvania.

I am Lower Merion Township DUI Lawyer Henry S. Hilles, III, I will explore all of your options including contesting the DUI/DWI charges and seeking alternative sentencing options such as the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD Program).

Driving under the influence (DUI) is treated by the Pennsylvania criminal justice system as a serious crime. Pennsylvania’s tough sentencing guidelines and mandary minimum sentences have resulted in the state having some of the strictest DUI penalties in the nation.

A first-offense DUI conviction in Montgomery County, PA results in a mandatory prison sentence (of up to 72 hours in prison) along with other potential sanctions such as a driver’s license suspension, fines and treatment programs. A second or subsequent DUI offense in PA carries far greater mandatory minimum sentences and other conditions. And, a DUI conviction stays on a person’s criminal record indefinitely. For anyone charged with DUI it is important to hire an attorney who can evaluate all possible alternative dispositions, including ARD, to avoid these severe penalties.

My DUI defense practice includes drunk driving cases involving:

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD Program) for DUI Cases in PA

I have helped many people who were accused of drinking and driving avoid the extreme consequences of a DUI conviction. I have been successful in negotiating creative and alternative sentences for clients accused of a first-offense DUI in PA.

One such alternative program is the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD Program) which involves no jail time and a greatly minimized driver’s license suspension.

Importantly, Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) is considered a non-conviction — which means that at the conclusion of the ARD Program, the DUI charges are legally dismissed and may be expunged from a person’s criminal record. In some instances, I am able to help my clients secure a PA Occupational Limited License (“bread-and-butter license”) to allow them to continue to drive for work.

While Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or a plea bargain is sometimes the best option, it is important to choose a DUI defense attorney who is not hesitant to take a matter to trial when it is appropriate to do so. Prosecutors can sense when a lawyer is afraid of trial and will be less inclined to offer the best possible deal. As both a former prosecutor and defense counsel, I understand how prosecutors and police investigate suspected DUIs and prepare for trial. I have a great deal of experience in trying DUI and other criminal cases.

An Outline of Pennsylvania DUI Laws and DUI Penalties

A person may be charged with driving under the influence if he or she drives a motor vehicle on a “highway” or “trafficway” in PA under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police may stop a car for suspicion of DUI only if they have “probable cause” or “reasonable grounds” to believe that the driver has committed a crime or violation. Police may not randomly stop a car for no reason (although in the case of properly established “sobriety checkpoints”, the police are permitted to stop every car that passes the checkpoint).

Pennsylvania DUI law has a three-tiered punishment system (set forth in the chart below) depending on a person’s blood-alcohol level. Penalties for DUI convictions increase with each tier. The least severe penalty applies for those who drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 to .099 percent. More severe penalties apply for those who drive with a blood alcohol content from .10 to .159 percent, and the harshest punishment applies to those with a blood alcohol content of .16 percent or greater. A person’s blood alcohol level must be determined from blood drawn within two hours after the individual was in actual control of the vehicle.

People who “refuse” or decline to take a blood-alcohol test upon request of the police are deemed to be in the highest blood-alcohol content tier.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has a “per se” law with respect to driving under the influence of various drugs. This means that if a person charged with DUI has any measurable amount of drugs in their system (even if the drug was ingested days or weeks prior to the arrest), they are punished as if they were in the highest alcohol level.

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

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program: More Information

People charged with a first offense driving under the influence/DUI in PA may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. ARD is a pre-trial intervention program that is designed to divert first-time, non-violent offenders from the criminal justice system.

Admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program results in no jail time and a greatly reduced license suspension. By statute, county district attorneys’ offices are permitted to have their own unique criteria and conditions for admission into an ARD program. It is important to understand that cases that may qualify for ARD in one county might not for another.

The Montgomery County, PA ARD Program

In Montgomery County, PA, it is possible to earn a reduced period of probation if you comply with certain terms and conditions in a specified time period. Specifically, your probation period can be reduced to six months (as opposed to a year). You should retain an experienced DUI defense lawyer to ensure your eligibility for the best possible ARD Program conditions.

There are certain terms and conditions of the ARD Program that are imposed by PA statute and are non-negotiable. A person admitted into ARD must serve six to 24 months of non-reporting probation and will have to attend and successfully complete Alcohol Highway Safety School, undergo a Court Reporting Network (CRN) drug and alcohol evaluation and perform at least 12 hours of community service.

It is important to note that when a person is charged with DUI following an accident with injuries or property damage, he or she may not be entitled to admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. In such cases, it is critically important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Please contact me, Pottstown DUI Defense Lawyer Henry S. Hilles, III at 610-270-8800 for further clarification or click here to discuss your case.

Expungement of an ARD Disposition

Perhaps the best benefit of the ARD Program is the fact that you can eventually get your record expunged. Once a person has successfully completed the ARD Program, the underlying criminal charges are legally dismissed. You may then file a petition with the court to have all records of the arrest expunged from your criminal record.

It is important to understand that expungement is not automatic following completion of the ARD Program. If you do not file a petition to expunge your record, potential employers or anyone else who investigates you will be able to find your DUI arrest and ARD disposition.

To expunge your record, you must obtain a court order directing all criminal agencies to delete and destroy any records relating to your DUI charge and ARD disposition. It is important to retain an experienced DUI defense lawyer who will follow through to make sure that these PA and federal agencies comply with the terms of the expungement order and fully expunge their records.

PA DUI Trials

Persons charged with DUI in PA have an absolute right to a trial. However, not all DUI offenses entitle a person to a trial by jury. Under Pennsylvania law, a defendant is entitled to a trial by judge — but not a trial by jury — on “ungraded misdemeanors”.

First-offense DUIs, and second-offense DUIs in the first two tiers, are considered ungraded misdemeanors. Accordingly, on these charges you do not have a right to a jury trial. All other DUIs in PA are considered higher-level misdemeanors for which a defendant is entitled to a jury trial.

Feel free to call Abington Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer Henry Hilles at 610-270-8800 to discuss your rights.

DUI and License Suspensions

A person convicted of DUI or admitted into the ARD Program in PA will incur a license suspension. This sanction is a PennDOT administrative action and is separate and apart from the criminal charges.

A person caught driving with a suspended license suspension due to a DUI offense (including an ARD license suspension) faces a mandatory 60 or 90 day prison sentence and an additional license suspension.

PennDOT considers a license suspension to officially begin when a person has submitted a non-duplicated PA driver’s license and/or a PennDOT DL-16 affidavit form. It is very important to work closely with your DUI defense attorney to make sure that everyone, including PennDOT, is on the same page regarding when the license suspension begins.

Pennsylvania Implied Consent Laws

Under Pennsylvania law, any person who holds a driver’s license is deemed to have given consent to have his or her blood alcohol content examined by analysis of breath, blood or urine. However, this is only true if police have probable cause or reasonable grounds to believe that the person had been driving a motor vehicle while impaired.

If a person refuses to take a blood-alcohol test where probable cause or reasonable grounds exist, their PA license will be suspended for 12 months and they will be deemed to a have a blood-alcohol content in the highest tier. This suspension is in addition to any suspension a person may receive for a DUI conviction or ARD disposition.

Frequently people choose to contest the issue of whether a person truly “refused” a BAC test. You should call me, Conshohocken DUI Lawyer Henry Hilles at 610-270-8800 or click here to discuss whether you should contest a DUI refusal suspension.

Occupational Limited (“Bread-And-Butter”) License

In most cases involving a DUI conviction or admission into the ARD Program, PennDOT will automatically suspend your driver’s license. However you may be entitled to a PA Occupational Limited (“bread-and-butter”) License which enables you to drive for work, medical treatment or schooling during the term of the license suspension.

Bread and Butter Licenses are available to all first-offenders after the person serves a 60-day full license suspension. To receive an Occupational Limited License, applicants must file a petition with PennDOT setting forth in detail the need to operate a motor vehicle and the hours that they need a license for work. Please contact the Law Office of Henry S. Hilles, III in Montgomery County, PA, for further clarification.

Juvenile DUI Offenders

Pennsylvania law provides for “zero tolerance” with respect to juvenile DUI offenders. The blood-alcohol limit in PA for persons under 21 is .02 percent. These cases can be problematic because a minor’s consumption of perfectly legal over-the-counter cold and cough remedies, many of which contain alcohol, can cause an elevated blood alcohol content of .02 percent or even higher.

Juvenile offenders may be eligible for admission into the ARD Program. They may also be eligible for dispositions that may be more beneficial than ARD such as an Informal Adjustment or a Consent Degree. Please contact the Law Office of Henry S. Hilles, III in Montgomery County, PA, for more information about juvenile DUI defense.

Commercial and School Vehicles

The blood-alcohol limit is .04 percent for commercial vehicle operators and .02 percent for school bus drivers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For commercial vehicle and school bus drivers, any blood-alcohol concentration from this minimum up to .16 percent is punished the same as for violations in the middle tier (.10 to .159 percent). For BACs of .16 percent or higher, the highest tier applies.

Harsh DUI Penalties for Commercial Drivers License Holders

People who drive for a living — truck drivers, bus drivers, commercial van drivers and other commercial drivers — have a lot at stake when pulled over for DUI in PA. Individuals holding a commercial driver’s license (CDL) are held to much higher standards in Pennsylvania.

Strict DUI Laws for Commercial Drivers

Driving under the influence (DUI) can result in steep fines, jail time and license suspension, regardless of whether or not you are a commercial driver operating under a CDL. However, CDL drivers face strict rules regarding the legal limit, off-duty driving and penalties for DUI.

  • Legal limit: Commercial vehicle operators holding a CDL are bound by a reduced blood-alcohol limit of .04 percent (.02 percent for school bus drivers). Essentially, any amount of alcohol in a commercial driver’s system can result in charges for drunk driving.
  • Off-duty driving: Commercial drivers who are arrested or convicted for drunk driving — even when they are off-duty — face consequences to their CDL status and career. Not only do many trucking companies require truck drivers to maintain an impeccable driving record, any suspensions of a driver’s personal driver’s license will carry over to his or her commercial driver’s license. Additionally, if a commercial driver is found to have any measurable alcohol in his or her system, the driver can be forced to go off-duty for at least 24 hours.
  • First-offense DUI consequences: CDL drivers convicted for first-offense drunk driving face DUI penalties of up to six months in jail and a one-year driver’s license suspension (for individuals with a BAC of up to .16 percent; a higher BAC will result in aggravated DUI penalties). CDL drivers face a one-year CDL license suspension even if they are admitted into the ARD Program. Additionally, if the driver was transporting hazardous materials at the time of the DUI arrest, the operator faces a three-year license suspension.
  • Repeat-offense DUI penalties: DUI penalties rise exponentially for CDL drivers who are convicted for a second offense or subsequent offense DUI in Pennsylvania. DUI penalties can include increased jail time,  and a permanent suspension of a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Blood Alcohol Testing: Challenging the Breathalyzer

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 DUI defense attorney.

Call Montgomery County PA DUI / ARD Program Defense Lawyer Henry Hilles at 610-270-8800 Or email me at hilles@comcast.net

I routinely defend those accused of criminal charges, drug crimes, DUI, property crimes, violent crimes and sex offenses throughout Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. This includes Abington, Ambler, Blue Bell, Collegeville, Conshohocken, Haverford, Jenkintown, Cheltenham Township, Pottstown, Upper Merion Township, Upper Dublin Township, Lower Providence Township, Upper Moreland Township and Horsham Township.