Frequently Asked Questions About Drunk Driving
The most frequently asked question in this area is “Do I really need a lawyer for a drunk driving case?” The answer is YES! A DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charge is more complex than meets the eye. It is not just a simple matter of knowing the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and then determining what the outcome might be. An experienced lawyer in this area knows the legal aspects as well as the technical aspects of this area of the law. Whether you were arrested for a DUI last night or stopped several weeks ago and just received a summons from the court stating that you have been charged with a DUI, you need an experienced lawyer on your side.
A: Blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is the level of alcohol in the bloodstream from drinking alcoholic beverages. BAC readings are used in court as evidence in the drunk driving cases. The two methods used in Pennsylvania are a breath test and a blood test. In rare circumstances a urine test is used. A result of .08 or higher will most likely result in charges being filed. I say most likely because there is a margin of error in these tests that sometimes works to a person’s advantage. In Pennsylvania, the actual BAC reading is very important because the potential penalties are different depending upon the BAC level.
A: Yes, but you are not helping yourself if you do. Pennsylvania has an implied consent law providing that a driver impliedly consents to alcohol testing just by the act of driving. Therefore, is the police have probable cause to stop you, you have already agreed to submit to chemical testing if the officer believes you are under the influence. If you refuse testing you will most likely receive a one year (more in some cases) license suspension simply for refusing the test. Also, you will be deemed to be in the highest (.16 and above) category for sentencing purposes. Finally, your test refusal may also be used as evidence against you if you decide to take the case to trial.
A: No. However, in Pennsylvania they are presumed to be accurate if the test was done within two hours of the actual driving. However, this does not mean that nothing can be done to challenge the results or have you treated as if in a lower category. In some cases we can challenge the results based upon an improperly calibrated breath machine or inadequately trained officers. In some cases the blood was mishandled and that can be the basis of a successful challenge.
A: If a person whose license has been revoked or suspended due to drunk driving chooses to drive without a valid license and is pulled over, he or she stands to suffer more serious consequences such as mandatory jail time, a stiff fine and an additional suspension. Obviously, it is best to not drive under these circumstances.
A: A Preliminary Hearing is your first appearance in Court and is usually scheduled within a few weeks of when the charges get filed with the local District Court. The filing of the charges sometimes takes a month or so after the police stopped you and processed you on the night of the incident. The Preliminary Hearing is a great time to learn some important facts and to also attempt to negotiate a reduction of the charges. Therefore, the Preliminary Hearing should not be treated lightly and experienced counsel should be hired beforehand.
A: Although your rates will likely be higher, your insurer may continue to insure you even after a conviction. A subsequent clean driving record may result in lower rates in the future. If your insurer drops you as a result of the conviction, another insurance company may be willing to accept the risk. In fact, some companies specialize in offering nonstandard insurance to drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving but rates are much higher. Another possible source of insurance for high risk drivers may be state insurance programs created for just these types of drivers.
A: Drunk driving convictions carry serious penalties that vary depending upon your BAC, whether controlled substances were involved, whether an accident occurred, whether or not you have previous DUI charges and whether or not your attorney is successful in building a defense for you. Although courts may go easier on first time offenders, even in first offense cases the possible sentences can include stiff fines and jail time. If the circumstances warrant it, however, the court may choose less restrictive options or a combination of options, including probation, diversion programs, community service, alcohol awareness education, abuse counseling, ignition interlock systems, home monitoring, suspension of vehicle registration, vehicle impoundment or in-house alcohol treatment. For subsequent offenses, the likelihood of imprisonment and the steepness of fines usually increase and in all cases the loss of driving privileges, at least temporarily, is almost guaranteed.
A: The use of house arrest in Pennsylvania is growing every day. Many first, second and even third time offenders can qualify for house arrest. This does not mean that the Jude will always allow a sentence to be served on house arrest. Many judges will grant house arrest if there are some extenuating circumstances such as medical issues. Also, proving to a judge that the offender has done alcohol counseling (inpatient or outpatient) can help convince the judge to allow house arrest. Every case is different and a well qualified attorney should be hired to increase the odds of receiving this type of sentence.
A: Under most circumstances the answer is no. However, some first time offenders can qualify after 60 days and some second time offenders can qualify after a longer period of time.
A: The best way to avoid being convicted of drunk driving is to not drink and drive. Use a designated driver, call a taxi, call a friend or don’t drink alcohol if you are going to need to drive within a few hours. For some people, even one drink can impair their driving abilities. However, if you have been charged with driving under the influence, an experienced drunk driving defense lawyer can work to improve the outcome of your case.
A: Assuming that there is a strong case against you, you should still hire an attorney experienced in this area to help minimize the impact the case will have on your life. An experienced attorney helps to equalize the balance of power between the defendant and the prosecution and works to preserve the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all persons charged with an offense. You should never go into court without an attorney particularly when your freedom is a stake.