If charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania, you might wonder: Is a DUI in PA a felony?
Your first DUI in Pennsylvania is a misdemeanor, not a felony (without aggravating factors). While DUI can have serious legal consequences, it doesn’t automatically lead to a felony charge.1
DUI laws are daunting if you’re not in the know. Fortunately, this article is here to get you up to speed on DUI penalty information and legal strategies surrounding Pennsylvania DUI law.
Understanding DUI Laws in Pennsylvania
Much like other states, Pennsylvania keeps its roads safe with stringent DUI laws. DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, which covers the impact of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. There are a few elements of Pennsylvania’s DUI laws worth noting2:
- Blood Alcohol Limits – In Pennsylvania, a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is considered legally impaired for drivers aged 21 and over. For those under 21, the state enforces a zero-tolerance policy, limiting the acceptable BAC to 0.02%. The permissible limit is 0.04% if you drive a bus or a commercial vehicle.
- Penalties – A DUI penalty in Pennsylvania depends on BAC levels, prior convictions, and aggravating factors. Consequences include mandatory training, Interlock installation, license suspension, fines, and even jail time.
- Aggravating factors – Elevated BAC levels, minors in the vehicle, and accidents resulting in injury or death are aggravating factors that can lead to more severe penalties. Examples include DUI accidents causing serious injury or death, multiple DUI convictions within 10 years, or DUIs with a minor in the vehicle.
Felony vs. Misdemeanor DUI: What’s the Difference?
So, is DUI a felony in Pennsylvania? While a DUI offense is typically considered a misdemeanor, charges can escalate. In 2018, Pennsylvania passed Act 153, which made DUIs chargeable as felonies in some circumstances.3
Here are the differences between Pennsylvania’s two DUI classifications:
- Misdemeanor DUI – Most DUI offenses in Pennsylvania are classified as misdemeanors. They typically involve first or second-time DUI drivers with a BAC above the legal limit but no aggravating factors. Misdemeanor DUI convictions or a second DUI in PA can lead to penalties such as fines, license suspension, interlock installation, and mandatory programs.
- Felony DUI – Felony DUI charges are more severe and usually result from aggravated circumstances. Felony DUI convictions carry harsher penalties, including substantial fines and lengthy prison sentences.
Subsequent incidences will mandate the installation of an Ignition Interlock on all owned and leased vehicles. These breathalyzer devices test the driver’s blood alcohol limit before starting the car.
But how many DUIs is a felony in PA? Without aggravating factors, it’s three. Generally, the classification of your DUI determines which penalty you’ll be subject to.
Let’s take a look at what those penalties entail below.
Penalties for Felony DUI in Pennsylvania
Felony DUIs in Pennsylvania are a far more serious matter. The state imposes harsh penalties for felony DUIs arising from the aggravated circumstances discussed. Some include4:
- Substantial fines – Felony DUI convictions often result in substantial fines, the exact amount of which can vary based on the circumstances and any prior conviction. However, fines can reach as high as $5000.
- Long prison sentences – Depending on prior offenses and case details, sentences can range from a few years to a decade or more, especially in repeat or egregious situations.
- License suspension – A felony DUI conviction often means losing your driving privileges for up to 18 months or longer, depending on the situation.
- Probation and parole – These periods can last several years or even after incarceration, enforcing strict conditions like regular check-ins, alcohol education courses, and close monitoring by law enforcement.
- Impact on criminal record – Felony DUI convictions can linger for years and hinder job applications, housing requests, and educational opportunities.
Grasping how tough Pennsylvania’s felony DUI penalties are drives home the need for sharp legal advice and a solid defense game plan.
Legal Strategies for DUI Defense
If you’re dealing with a DUI charge in Pennsylvania, build a strong defense. Different legal strategies can help you challenge the accusations and reduce the penalties. Here are some of them:
- Questioning why you were stopped – A good defense starts with asking whether the police had a good reason to pull you over and arrest you. If they didn’t follow the rules, your case could be dropped.
- Dispute your BAC testing – Challenging the accuracy and reliability of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing is a common defense. Inaccurate or improperly administered tests can undermine the prosecution’s case.
- Exploit the prosecution’s weaknesses – Look closely at the evidence and arguments that the prosecution uses in court. Find any mistakes or deficiencies that can help you in the case. Examples might include contradictions or holes within witness testimonies and the prosecution’s evidence.
Mounting a DUI defense in Pennsylvania isn’t easy, so it’s wise to partner with a legal expert. A DUI lawyer can help you check the case and pick your best defense strategy. They can also inform you about a DUI vs. DWI in Pennsylvania and what the legal implications are for each.
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- Changes in Pennsylvania DUI Penalties. https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/changes-in-pennsylvania-dui-penalties-7558
- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Impaired Driving. https://www.penndot.pa.gov/TravelInPA/Safety/TrafficSafetyAndDriverTopics/pages/impaired-driving.aspx
- PennDOT Driver and Vehicle Services. DUI Legislation. https://www.dmv.pa.gov/Information-Centers/Laws-Regulations/pages/dui-legislation.aspx
- PA General Assembly. Driving After Imbibing Alcohol Or Utilizing Drugs. https://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/75/00.038..HTM
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