First-Time DUI in Pennsylvania


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Life gets more complicated when you’re facing a DUI in Philadelphia. A conviction makes finding work, housing, or simply getting around much harder – even if it’s your first DUI.

However, first-time offenders benefit from a clean record. Depending on the facts of your case, your DUI defense attorney can do a lot to help you avoid harmful penalties. When you contact Fienman Defense, you’ll receive experienced representation that treats your case with the care and attention it deserves.

Call (215) 839-9529 for a free DUI consult today.

What Happens at a DUI Stop in PA?

A DUI stop can be intimidating even for someone who hasn’t had a sip of alcohol. Law enforcement may see you go left of center on the highway, pull you over, and ask you to submit to testing or bring you in for further chemical testing. Police must follow DUI procedure, or your case could be based on weak evidence, increasing your chance for dismissal.

Cops Must Have Reasonable Suspicion to Stop You

Police need reasonable suspicion to pull someone over. Because of this, law enforcement will look for signs of impairment like:

  • Weaving
  • Swerving
  • Driving under the speed limit
  • Nearly hitting an object or another vehicle

You might have been unlawfully pulled over if reasonable suspicion was never established in the initial traffic stop.

Police Look for Signs of Impairment

Once stopped, Pennsylvania police are trained to look for specific cues that indicate a driver might be under the influence. These include:

  • The smell of alcohol on your breath or in your car
  • A flushed face
  • Glassy or bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering or swaying when you get out of your car for a field sobriety test

DUI Field Sobriety Tests in Pennsylvania

The police may ask you to get out of the car to take a field sobriety test. This is a test of your mental and physical capabilities to see if you have been drinking. Police are observing your coordination and how well you can follow directions. These tests may include the following:

  • Walk a straight line and turn
  • Recite the alphabet beginning with a letter that they give you
  • Balance on one leg
  • Follow a moving light or object with your eyes while you keep your head still

Required Chemical DUI Testing

You will probably be asked to take a chemical test such as a breath, blood, or urine test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC).

If your BAC is .08 percent or more, the equivalent of two drinks for most people, you will be charged with DUI. However, if the police believe you are impaired because of alcohol or drugs, you can still be arrested even if your blood level tests lower.

In Philadelphia, you must be tested within two hours of your arrest. If you refuse to be tested, your driver’s license will be immediately suspended for a year or more.

Pennsylvania’s DUI System for First-Time Offenders

Pennsylvania uses a three-tier system based on the level of alcohol in your blood to determine your level of punishment for a DUI.

Tier One DUI

The first tier (BAC of .08 to .099) is general impairment. It is punished with:

  • Up to six months of probation
  • $300 fine
  • Alcohol highway safety school
  • Completion of a court-ordered treatment program

Tier Two DUI

The second tier (BAC of .10 to .159) is high impairment. It is punished with:

  • Two days to six months in prison
  • $500 to $5,000 in fines
  • One-year license suspension
  • Alcohol highway safety school
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for up to one year
  • Completion of a court-ordered treatment program

Tier Three DUI

The third tier (BAC of .16 or more) is the highest impairment. It is punished with:

  • Three days to six months in prison
  • $1,000 to $5,000 in fines
  • One-year license suspension
  • Alcohol highway safety school
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for up to one year
  • Completion of a court-ordered treatment program

A First-Time DUI’s Long Term Impact

Unfortunately, the fallout of your DUI doesn’t end when your sentence is up. You can expect the following collateral consequences:

  • You now have a criminal record
  • Employers will see your conviction through a background check
  • Your car insurance rates will increase
  • If you caused an accident, you would be forced to pay restitution to the victim
  • You’ll have to rely on friends or family or pay for rideshare services until your suspension is over
  • Convicted minors could be expelled from college, or their education opportunities could be limited

Aggravating Factors in a First-Time DUI

Your BAC is not the only thing that could increase your penalties. Depending on your case’s facts, your first-time DUI charges could be more severe than you would think.

The following factors could result in higher penalties:

  • DUI with a Young Passenger – You could be charged with child endangerment on top of your DUI charges if a minor is in the car when you’re pulled over
  • Accident Causing Injury or Death – Not only will you be forced to pay restitution to the victim, but you could also face felony charges if someone dies due to a DUI.
  • Commercial or School Vehicles – School bus and commercial drivers face harsher first-time offense penalties than typical drivers.

Your Options When It’s Your First DUI

Depending on the circumstances of your case, the following defenses may be available:

  • You Weren’t Impaired – Fatigue, allergies, or other factors could explain your red eyes or behavior.
  • The Stop Was Not Legal – As stated, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place.
  • The DUI Checkpoint Did Not Meet Standards – Checkpoints must be marked, and officers must follow strict guidelines when stopping and testing individuals.
  • The Test Was Administered Incorrectly – Law enforcement officials should be trained to test individuals suspected of impairment correctly. They could calibrate the test wrong, which could discredit the final result.
  • The Test Was IncorrectChemical testing s not as accurate as you think. Also, women might be disadvantaged because the test isn’t always calibrated right. This could result in an inaccurate BAC.
  • The Police Report Had Inconsistencies – An attorney challenges every aspect of the report to highlight errors or contradictions that discredit it entirely.

First DUI: Alternative Sentencing, Restricted Licenses, & Exemptions

First-time DUI offenders have many options that help them reduce the harmful costs of a conviction.

Alternative Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD)

Those convicted of a non-violent first-time DUI could be eligible for Pennsylvania’s Alternative Rehabilitation Disposition Program. ARD requires you to follow a treatment plan instead of serving jail time.

Defendants undergo initial screening and are prescribed a treatment based on the evaluation. All individuals in the program must follow strict requirements and avoid violations like a positive drug test.

According to Pennsylvania law, your ARD records will be expunged after 10 years if you maintain a clean record.

Occupational Limited License

If your license is suspended, you could be eligible for an occupational limited license after serving 60 days of your suspension. This allows you to drive to work until you regain your driver’s license.

However, certain offenses might make you ineligible for this license, such as refusing a chemical test or DUIs involving the death or injury of another.

Financial Hardship Exemption

If the penalties for your charges result in using an ignition interlock device, this could put an added financial burden on you. This requirement forces you to install an interlock device on each vehicle you own—and you’ll be responsible for the cost of purchasing and maintaining the device.

You could be eligible for the financial hardship exemption that only requires installing the device on one of your cars.

The Dos & Don’ts of a DUI Stop

Although you might already be charged with a DUI, there are some things you can do if you ever find yourself in this situation again. Understand what to do and what not to do at a DUI stop:

  • Don’t try to talk your way out of the arrest to avoid self-incrimination
  • Don’t say that you’ve been drinking
  • Don’t succumb to police questioning without a lawyer
  • Don’t refuse chemical testing
  • Do cooperate with law enforcement
  • Do exercise your right to remain silent
  • Do contact a lawyer

How a First-Time DUI Lawyer Helps You

An attorney is your number one ally against devastating DUI charges. They assist you in several ways, including:

  • Challenging the evidence against you
  • Negotiating reduced charges with the prosecution
  • Questioning every detail of your case—starting with the initial stop
  • Presenting you with alternative sentencing options to avoid jail time

Pennsylvania DUI Law

DUI is described and defined under The Pennsylvania Code under Title 75, Chapter 38. Read the code here.

Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Certified

Attorney Michael H. Fienman represents clients in criminal and traffic matters throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Mr. Fienman has completed the same DWI detection training as most law enforcement officers and he holds a certificate in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) As an experienced trial attorney, he is a zealous advocate known for relentlessly defending clients in state court, federal court, and before administrative agencies.

Attorney Fienman is licensed to practice before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, and the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Questions? Contact us today.

Based on the evidence, Fienman Defense will try to get your DUI charges dismissed or lowered. Should the case go to trial, we will fight to present the strongest defense possible for your situation.