Pennsylvania will soon end the practice of suspending the driving privileges of people convicted of drug crimes. Both chambers of the state legislature approved the reforms almost unanimously, and Governor Wolf signed them into law on October 25, 2018. This means that mandatory license suspensions for drug offenders will end on January 23, 2019 — 180 days after the law was signed. Unfortunately, this means license suspensions will continue until then.

Another issue is that the law does not apply retroactively. So, anyone currently suspended as a result of a drug conviction will not benefit from the reform. Similarly, if you are currently facing charges for drug possession, you are still at risk of getting your driving privileges revoked–talk to your attorney about whether the new law will apply to your particular case.

If you’re facing a drug charge and are worried about the impact on your ability to drive, contact a Pennsylvania drug crimes attorney at Fienman Defense right away. We can advise you of your rights and what the new law means for your specific case. Call (215) 839-9529 or submit a request online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Pennsylvania to End Mandatory License Suspensions for Drug Offenders

Driving is a privilege, not a right. For this reason, state governments have broad authority to restrict the driving privileges of their citizens. Usually, only the driving privileges of people convicted of traffic offenses are affected. But under Section 1532 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code (Title 75), the Department of Transportation may impose a mandatory minimum six-month driver’s license suspension for a conviction of possession, sale, delivery, or giving away a controlled substance.

Subsequent offenses result in longer suspension periods: for a second offense, the suspension will last one year, and for a third or subsequent offense, the suspension period increases to two years. Additionally, the convictions in question do not need to originate from a Pennsylvania court. The Department of Transportation takes into account any conviction in federal or other state courts.

These penalties will be off the books once the new law, referenced above takes effect. Another penalty that the law removes is the three-month suspension period for people convicted of underage drinking or using a fake ID. Basically, the law restricts the revocation of driving privileges to situations where a person commits a driving-related offense.

The Changes are a Long Time Coming

In the 1990s, the Federal government made mandatory driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses a condition for states to receive funding. The federal government employed a similar tactic to achieve a national drinking age of 21 years by threatening to suspend federal highway funding in states that did not raise the drinking age. The drinking age laws have stayed on the books, but most states have stopped suspending the driving privileges of drug offenders.

Pennsylvania, however, continued with the practice despite evidence that it disproportionately affected poor and minority communities–and did little to improve road safety. Between 2011 and 2016, Pennsylvania suspended the driving privileges of 149,000 people convicted of drug crimes unrelated to a traffic offense. Fortunately, it the Pennsylvania authorities finally listened to reason and reversed this damaging policy.

You May Still Face a License Suspension if the Offense was Traffic-Related

The suspension of your driving privileges will still occur if you are convicted, or in some cases charged with a traffic offense related to drugs or alcohol. This can happen in two ways. There is an administrative suspension of your driving privileges, which occurs as soon as you fail or refuse a blood alcohol content (BAC) test. Later on, if you get convicted of DUI, the judge may be required to order an additional license suspension period as part of your sentence.

How a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be possible to challenge the administrative license suspension and retain your driving privileges while you fight your criminal charges. This is why it’s important for you to retain experienced and aggressive legal counsel early in the criminal justice process. To learn more about avoiding the loss of driving privileges after an arrest, call Fienman Defense today at (215) 839-9529 or online for a free and confidential consultation.

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