First-Time DUI In Pennsylvania
The most common criminal charge we see for otherwise law-abiding citizens is Driving Under the Influence (DUI). We see people from all walks of life who face DUI charges for simply having one too many drinks at a bar, restaurant, or party and deciding to drive home. A vast majority of our DUI clients facing a first-time DUI have never been in trouble before in their lives. They are concerned about the ramifications a DUI conviction will have on their driver’s license, freedom, and careers. The experienced attorneys at Goodwin Como understand the process, know your rights, and how the local court system works. We are here to lead you through the process while protecting your rights and getting you the best possible outcome.
How the DUI Process Works in Pennsylvania
- Traffic Stop. Most DUI charges begin with a traffic stop. Police out on the roads usually take their cues from how you drive. If they see you weaving, driving erratically, making improper or unsafe lane changes, or any other type of unusual maneuvers, they will pull you over. Sometimes the traffic stop is for a totally unrelated traffic violation such as window tint, burnt-out lights, or even an expired registration.
- Arrest. If the police believe you exhibit signs of intoxication such as smelling like alcohol, slurred speech, disheveled appearance, glassy or bloodshot eyes, slow or sluggish mannerisms, they are likely to put you through a series of field sobriety tests. If they believe you are intoxicated, they’ll arrest you on the spot and place you in police custody. You will be asked to undergo chemical testing to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC) or the presence of a controlled substance.
- Preliminary Arraignment. The purpose of a preliminary arraignment is to provide you with a copy of your criminal complaint, to inform you of your right to legal counsel, and to advise you of the time, date, and place of your preliminary hearing.
- Preliminary Hearing. This hearing is to be sure that the Commonwealth has enough evidence to proceed against you. The Commonwealth, through the District Attorney or Attorney General, must establish a sufficient case that, if believed, would constitute the crimes for which you stand charged.
- Formal Arraignment. The court typically sets this next court date within 30 to 60 days of the preliminary hearing. The purpose of the Formal Arraignment is to advise you of your right to legal counsel and inform you of various time limitations you have with regard to filing for discovery and certain motions. If you have legal counsel, your attorney can waive your appearance at this proceeding so you do not have to attend.
- Discovery. The Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure permit a person charged with a crime to request Pretrial Discovery and Inspection after their Formal Arraignment. In the context of a DUI prosecution, such evidence could include video and audio recordings from your traffic stop and arrest, the results of lab tests from the testing of your blood or breath for the presence of alcohol or controlled substances, and your driving record.
- Pretrial Hearings. There may be a pretrial hearing to update the court on the status of your case. There may also be negotiations for a plea bargain with the prosecutor.
- Omnibus Pretrial Motion. Within thirty (30) days of your Formal Arraignment, you can file an Omnibus Pretrial motion for Relief which in the context of a DUI prosecution typically involves a motion to suppress evidence due to an unconstitutional stop of your vehicle or an allegation that the police did not have probable cause to make an arrest.
- Suppression Hearings. Suppression hearings may be held during which your attorney may seek to suppress certain evidence because of, for example, an unconstitutional traffic stop, search, or arrest. If you are successful and suppression is granted, the Commonwealth may not be able to convict because the evidence has been thrown out by the court.
- Plea Hearings. If a plea agreement is reached with the prosecution or you decide the best course of action is to plead guilty and ask for leniency, then the court will schedule a plea hearing to make sure you understand the rights you are giving up by pleading guilty and that you are making a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary decision to plead guilty.
- Trial. The Commonwealth does not allow jury trials for first-offense DUI cases because they are not punishable by more than six (6) months. Instead, you’ll have a bench trial, during which a judge will act as both the judge and the jury deciding your guilt or innocence.
- Sentencing. If you’re found guilty, the judge will sentence you. If the verdict is not guilty, the case will be dismissed.
This is just one way your case may be processed; there are many different processes during which some of the steps above are not taken, and settlement is always possible.
What Are the Penalties for a First DUI in Pennsylvania?
If you do not have a prior criminal record and there are not any aggravating factors, you may be eligible to participate in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program. The ARD Program is a pretrial diversionary program authorized by the Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure. Typically, acceptance into the ARD Program delays formal criminal proceedings to permit you an opportunity to successfully complete the ARD Program and earn a dismissal and expungement of the charges against you.
Eligibility to participate in the ARD Program, as well as the terms and conditions of the program vary from county to county in Pennsylvania, and absent an abuse of discretion, the District Attorney of the county has discretion as to whether or not to offer you ARD. Typical conditions of participating in the ARD Program for first-time DUI offenders in Pennsylvania include supervision fees, supervision, attending safe driving classes, community service, undergoing a drug and alcohol assessment, and completing any recommended treatment.
If you are not eligible for ARD and you’re convicted of a DUI for the first time in Pennsylvania, you may face up to six months in jail, up to a $5,000 fine, and loss of your license for up to a year. Refusing chemical testing may result in an additional one-year license suspension. A DUI will also restrict your freedom, especially when traveling to another country, make it more difficult to find work or get into school, and give you a criminal record, making it more difficult to get insurance, a car, and housing in the future.
How Can a DUI Attorney Help if You’ve Been Arrested for Your First DUI?
At Goodwin Como, we understand that everybody makes mistakes, and we’ll help you navigate the system from the beginning of your case to the end to achieve the best possible outcome. Contact a DUI attorney at Goodwin Como online or call us at 724-438-1616 for your free initial consultation.