New Felony DUI Law in PA

On December 22, 2018, Pennsylvania’s new DUI law (Act 153) went into effect. Among other revisions, the new DUI law changes certain DUI offenses from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

Previously, the only DUI felony offenses were DUI accidents involving serious bodily injury (aggravated assault by vehicle) or death (homicide by vehicle, DUI-related). Now, certain repeat DUI offenses will be graded as a felony.

An impetus for the new law are studies which show that (1) about one-quarter of all drivers convicted of DUI are repeat offenders, and (2) a driver with a prior DUI conviction is approximately 50 percent more likely to be involving in a traffic fatality than a person without a prior DUI conviction. The new Pennsylvania DUI felony law is designed to target repeat offenders for greater penalties.

Specifically, a third DUI offense in the “highest tier” — or any fourth or subsequent DUI offense — will be graded as a felony of the third degree. Previously, such offenses were graded as misdemeanors of the first degree. A DUI is considered to be in the “highest tier” when the offender has a blood alcohol content of over 0.16 percent or when the offender “refuses” to take a blood or breath test.

The practical effect of this change is that repeat DUI offenders will face the potential of longer prison sentences and period of supervision (probation and/or parole).

The new law also increases the mandatory minimum sentence for homicide by vehicle cases when the driver is under the influence and has prior DUIs. The minimum sentence increases from 3 to 5 years if a person has one prior DUI and from 3 to 7 years if a person has two or more prior DUIs. And, the new law increases the penalties for repeat DUI offenders who drive while their license is suspended.