The National Transportation Safety Board caused a stir recently when it recommended lowering the blood alcohol level for driving under the influence to .05 percent nationwide.  The legal limit in Pennsylvania, as well as in almost every other state, is currently .08 percent.  A recent article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and other online sources, made some interesting points related to the NTSB’s announcement.

The primary point of the Post -Gazette’s article is that even if the change is made, it would not likely be made soon and could perhaps take decades.  Even the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania DUI Association, which supports the lower BAC change, admits that making the change could take "awhile". 

You may remember that back in 2003 the Pennsylvania Legislature reduced the legal limit from .10 to .08.  Pennsylvania was one of the last states to lower its BAC to .08 and it did so only in response to the federal government’s announcement that if it did not do so, it would lose highway funds.  One of the more interesting aspects brought up by the article was that the reduction to .08 percent was the result of a two decade process.  One of the primary concerns back then was that the lower limit would target people having drinks with dinner instead of highly intoxicated drivers who cause the majority of DUI-related accidents. 

The Post-Gazette article also states that while Pennsylvania is reviewing the NTSB’s recommendation, there are no current plans to lower the standard to .05. Moreover, a recent piece by USA Today states that the Governor’s Highway Safety Association supports the current .08 alcohol threshold, citing that when the limit was at .10 it was very difficult to get it lowered to .08.  The Agency also does not expect any state to go to .05 percent.  


Continue Reading Lowering Blood Alcohol Content Levels for DUI

One important point I convey to my clients who are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol ("DUI") is the severity of the penalties they face if they are caught driving while their licenses are suspended. The penalties include substantial fines ($500-$1,000), jail time (60-90 days) and a 12 month extension of the suspension.

The Lancaster Sunday News has recently been publishing a series of articles about the debate surrounding the efficiency of the Lancaster County criminal court system. On March 18, one article addressed the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program ("ARD") and how it helps to lighten the court’s caseload by keeping many cases off of the court calendar. 

The ARD program is generally available for first time DUI offenders although, as the Sunday News article points out, over the past few years, it has become available for some defendants charged with low-level and primarily nonviolent offenses. The program tends to lighten the court calendar because it offers several advantages to people charged with a crime. 

First, ARD allows a defendant to keep a clean criminal record. The successful completion of the program is not considered a criminal conviction, and the charges can be removed from a defendant’s criminal record through a process call expungement. This is one of the most attractive advantages to first-time offenders because they will not have to check the "yes" box on job applications and other documents asking if they have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony.

Second, there is generally no jail time involved with the ARD program. As a result, if a defendant is charged with a crime that calls for mandatory jail time, such as driving under the influence of alcohol ("DUI"), the ARD program allows that defendant to avoid jail despite the charges.

Third, if you are charged with DUI, the ARD program will result in a much shorter license suspension. DUI charges normally call for a twelve to eighteen month suspension depending on the defendant’s blood alcohol content ("BAC") and whether the defendant has had any prior DUI convictions. On the other hand, and as the Sunday News article points out, ARD will result in a license suspension of zero to ninety days depending on the offender’s BAC. In a previous post, I described the stiff penalties, including jail time and significant fines, drivers can face if they are caught driving with a license suspended for DUI or ARD purposes.


Continue Reading ARD Program Lightens Court Caseload

In Pennsylvania, people who are convicted of a second or subsequent DUI offense are subject to the Pennsylvania Ignition Interlock Law (the "Law"). This means that after convicted drivers have served their suspension for driving under the influence, the Law requires them to install an ignition interlock device in their motor vehicles.

What Is an Ignition Interlock Device?

An ignition interlock device prohibits individuals under the influence of alcohol from operating a vehicle. Drivers are required to blow into the device before they can start the engine. If the device detects alcohol, it will prevent the vehicle from starting. In addition, throughout the course of their drives, drivers will be prompted to blow into the device periodically to ensure they do not drink alcohol after they start the car. 

A driver subject to the Law typically has his or her ignition interlock device installed after serving a twelve to eighteen month license suspension. Thirty days prior to the end of the suspension, PennDOT will mail the driver a Restoration Requirement Letter, which includes an application for the Ignition Interlock License and a list of ignition interlock providers. There is an application fee that varies depending on the type of driver’s license. 

Licenses for Ignition Interlock Drivers

Ignition Interlock Licenses have a different appearance than a normal driver’s license. They have a red banner and contain the words "limited license." There is also a small red map of Pennsylvania in the lower right hand corner that contains the words “ignition interlock.” The license prohibits the driver from using a vehicle that is not equipped with an approved ignition interlock device. You can see an image of an ignition interlock driver’s license on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Ignition Interlock Fact Sheet.


Continue Reading DUI Conviction and Pennsylvania’s Ignition Interlock Device Law

I came across an interesting question recently regarding the personal information required for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) loan application process. SBA has a business loan requirement checklist on their website and in the personal information section it states,

"Either as part of the loan application or as a separate document, you will probably be asked to provide some personal background information, including previous addresses, names used, criminal record, educational background, etc."

So let’s say you have a criminal record and would like to apply for an SBA loan, are you immediately disqualified for a loan?

To answer this question you first need to understand the role of SBA in lending. SBA directly lends money to small business owners. SBA guarantees loans offered from participating lenders, such as banks and credit unions. The idea is that private lenders will be more likely to provide small business owners a loan if SBA is willing to stand behind a loan and pay if the borrower does not. Both SBA and the lender will have their own requirements to approve you.


Continue Reading Does a Criminal Record Disqualify me from an SBA Loan?

A common question I receive from clients dealing with a loss of his or her driver’s license as the result of a DUI is, "Can I get a temporary license while mine is suspended?" Everyone seems to have a friend or know someone who knows someone, who received a license to travel to and from work or school when that person lost their license because of a DUI. There are however, a lot of misconceptions about an Occupational Limited License (OLL). The bottom line is that whether you qualify depends on your circumstances.  

If your license has been suspended as the result of a DUI and you are anticipating going through or are already in the ARD program, then you DO NOT qualify for an OLL under any circumstances. On the other hand, if you have been charged with a DUI and will not or did not dispose of the charge via the ARD program, then you may qualify for an OLL if:

  • it is your first DUI and the license suspension period is one year. In that case, you can apply for an OLL, but even if you are granted an OLL, it will not be issued until you have served a 60 day license suspension period; or
  • the license suspension is for 18 months and it is your first or second DUI offense in the last 10 years. In that case, you can be granted an OLL but you must first have served 12 of the 18 months of the suspension and you must install the ignition interlock device on your vehicle; or
  • at the time of your arrest, you refused to submit to a chemical test (typically a breathalyzer) then you can qualify for an OLL if your license suspension is 18 months, have no more than one prior DUI in the last 10 years, have served 12 of the 18 months, and have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle.


Continue Reading Occupational Limited Licenses and DUI

During my time as a prosecutor, I was surprised by the number of defendants charged with driving under the influence (DUI) who did not hire an attorney and attempted to represent themselves. Admittedly, some of those defendants ended up with a result that, in my opinion, was substantially similar to the result that would have occurred had they hired an attorney. On the other hand, I saw many defendants stumble into the many pitfalls they could have avoided had they hired an attorney. Thus, anyone charged with driving under the influence should understand the benefits of hiring an attorney experienced in DUI-related law.

Consequences

The punishment for a DUI offense can vary greatly depending on the circumstances. Important factors include:

  • The blood alcohol content of the individual at the time of arrest
  • If the individual has any prior DUI convictions and how long ago those convictions occurred
  • Was there any damages or injuries from a related car crash
  • If the individual is underage
  • The type of substance the individual was under the influence of


Continue Reading Why You Need an Attorney When Charged With Driving Under the Influence (DUI)?

In the past we have written about the penalties and suspensions imposed on standard driver’s license holders caused by a DUI conviction, entrance into the ARD program and refusals to submit to blood tests to determine blood alcohol content. This post will address the impact of those events on a Commercial Driver’s License ("CDL").

In Pennsylvania, a CDL is required for a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Such vehicles typically include most buses, big-rig trucks and HAZMAT vehicles. There are several classes of CDLs that vary depending on the specific type of commercial vehicle that is going to be driven.


Continue Reading The Effect of DUI & ARD on Pennsylvania Commercial Driver’s Licenses