With the summer ending, Labor Day, end of summer celebrations, and squeezing the last bit of fun out of the beach, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrests are likely to spike.  No one is immune from the risk and reality of being pulled over while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and facing the difficult chain of events that will unfold.

Before giving a general explanation of the DUI crime and possible outcomes, I must say DO NOT DRINK/USE DRUGS AND DRIVE!  With the ease of using Uber, Lyft, and cabs, a DUI arrest is completely avoidable.  In actuality, an arrest is the least of your worries, you may kill yourself or an innocent person.

The laws pertaining to DUI vary from State to State, however, there are general similarities among all states.  For this post I will use the DUI laws of Pennsylvania as an example.

A common misconception is that you can have a drink or two and be fine to drive or pass a Blood Alcohol test.  Simply being buzzed with one or two drinks does impair your ability to drive and react, and may lead you to have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) making you impaired per the DUI law of your state.  The BAC is a measure of the amount of alcohol that is present in your blood, based on the volume of alcohol consumed over a given period of time.  BAC levels do not occur at the same rate and same number of drinks for everyone.  Examples of factors that impact your BAC levels are

  •  Age
  • Gender
  • Food Consumption
  • Rate of Alcohol Consumption
  • Type of Alcohol Consumed
  • Weight
  • Metabolism
  • Stress Level

Illegal BAC Levels and Criminal Sentences

In Pennsylvania, you are deemed impaired to drive when your BAC is .08% or higher.  The actual BAC amount over .08% will determine what level of the DUI crime you are placed in; the possible and/or mandatory punishment for a DUI conviction rises as your BAC rises.  The classifications of BAC for Pennsylvania are:

  1. .08% to .099% – General Impairment
  2. .10% to .159% – High BAC
  3. .16% or higher – Highest BAC

Pennsylvania’s DUI laws have mandatory punishments for those convicted of DUI.  The mandatory punishment is determined by the BAC level and number of previous DUI offenses.

Some examples are:

A first time DUI offense of .08% to .099% carries:

  • Up to 6 months’ probation
  • $300.00 fine
  • Alcohol Highway Safety Training
  • Possible Alcohol Treatment
  • NO license suspension

Whereas, a second offense carries:

  • 12-month license suspension
  • 5 days to 6 months in prison
  • $300 – $2,500 fine
  • Alcohol Highway Safety Training
  • Possible Alcohol Treatment
  • 1 year of ignition interlock

A first time DUI offense of .16% or higher carries:

  • 12-month license suspension
  • 72 hours to 6 months in prison
  • $1,000 – $5,000 fine
  • Alcohol Highway Safety Training
  • Possible Alcohol Treatment

Whereas, a second offense carries:

  • 18-month license suspension
  • 90 days to 5 years in prison
  • $1,500 – $10,000 fine
  • Alcohol Highway Safety Training
  • Possible Alcohol Treatment
  • 1 year of ignition interlock

If the DUI offense involves an accident, injury to another person or property, or someone’s death, the matter is handled more seriously, and you will be charged with additional crimes and face more serious punishments.

First Time Offenders – ARD Program

For DUI matters, most states have diversion programs if you are involved in not only your first DUI offense, but first ever contact with the criminal justice system.  In Pennsylvania, the diversion program is called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD).  The procedure and standards for acceptance into ARD vary from county to county; ARD is not guaranteed or an entitlement even if it is your first DUI offense and involvement with the criminal justice system.  Also, if you are eligible for ARD based on your lack of criminal history and being your first DUI, if the DUI involved an accident, injury to another person, or anything other than simply being pulled over, you will most likely not be eligible for the ARD program.

If accepted into ARD, examples of the requirements to successfully complete it are:

  • Drug and Alcohol evaluation
  • (.08% to .099%) – No license suspension
  • (.10% to .159%) – 30-day suspension
  • (.16% or higher) – 60-day suspension
  • 3 – 6 months of probation
  • Alcohol Highway Safety Class
  • Fines and Costs

If you successfully complete the requirements of the ARD program, you avoid a DUI conviction, and have the ability expunge (remove) the arrest from your record.  The expungement is the primary benefit of the ARD program as it leaves you with a clean criminal background check.

What to do if you are pulled over

Obviously cooperate and do not cause any further problems; do not take the police on a high speed chase and do not argue with the officers.

Pennsylvania is an “implied consent” state, which means it is implied you will submit to a breathalyzer or chemical test upon request of law enforcement.  If you refuse testing, Pennsylvania will suspend your driver’s license for one year.  Even if you refuse, an officer’s testimony regarding his/her observations of you at the scene and your driving behavior may be enough to convict you without a breathalyzer or blood test.  You do not have to agree to a field sobriety test.  Whether or not to refuse breath or chemical testing is a personal choice and risk to take.  There are differing opinions on the breath and chemical refusal; however, my opinion is to cooperate and leave any battle to another day, especially a day you are sober.  Also, a refusal may lead to you not being eligible for ARD even if you are otherwise eligible.

Other DUI Facts

  • Those under 21 only need to have a BAC of .02% to be guilty of DUI
  • You can be convicted of DUI for having drugs in your system while driving. Any traces of cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, PCP/LSD, etc. in your system will lead to an arrest and possible conviction for DUI; Pennsylvania has certain levels for marijuana; and legal prescription drugs in your system while driving may lead to a DUI arrest and conviction depending on the prescription drug and known/warned of side effects
  • DUI pertains not just to automobiles, but boats, motorcycles, ATVs, airplanes, and maybe golf carts or lawnmowers if driving them on the open road

Defenses to a DUI Arrest

Whether you can successfully attempt to defend yourself in a DUI arrest depends upon certain factors surrounding the arrest and testing, as well as how much money you have to put into a defense; a full DUI trial may come with not only expensive attorney’s fees, but fees for experts in blood testing, BAC levels, how alcohol dissipates from the human body, and the accuracy or function of breathalyzer tests/machines.

Factors to consider in mounting defense are:

  • Was the traffic stop by law enforcement constitutional?
  • Did the law enforcement officers and lab technicians follow all protocols for breath and chemical testing, and observation?
  • Was a warrant required, and if so, obtained for a blood draw?
  • Can you afford the expense of an expert for your trial?
  • Can you afford the attorney’s fees for attempting to mount a defense?

Even if you may have a strong defense, if you are eligible for and accepted into the ARD program, that is usually the safest and smartest option to select.  If ARD is not an option, then you look to your abilities for a defense.


As I started off this post, the simple way to avoid the horrible experience and profound risks of a DUI arrest, is to NOT DRIVE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS OR ALCOHOL.  The consequences go far beyond what a judge may sentence you to.  In addition to criminal punishment you also face:

  1. Loss of your job
  2. Embarrassment and negative impact upon your family
  3. Loss of a professional license (as an attorney I could lose my license to practice law if convicted of a DUI)
  4. Loss of a special driver’s license (CDL)
  5. Paying thousands of dollars to defend yourself
  6. Causing a serious accident which in turn may lead to:
    1. Serious injury or death to you
    2. Serious injury or death to an innocent person(s)

The life and financial risks are not worth it, so call Uber, Lyft, a cab, or have a designated driver.

If you are unsure if you are impaired, err on the side of caution and DO NOT drive.  The risks are too high!

If you do find yourself facing a DUI arrest and the consequences involved, take the matter seriously and seek out competent and trusted legal advice and representation by calling me at 610-992-1300 or 24 hour Emergency 215-696-1509.

Thank you for reading, drive safely, make smart decisions, and enjoy your end of summer celebrations.

  • Paul