The state of Pennsylvania takes drunk driving seriously. Even first-time offenders can face jail time for a DUI. However, the penalties for your first DUI may seem light when compared to a DUI where a minor passenger was in the vehicle. In situations like this, the state will likely throw the book at you.
If you are facing first offense DUI with minor passenger charges, you should know the following information.
If you are convicted of a first-offense DUI with a minor in PA, the judge will sentence you to several penalties.
If you are convicted of a first-offense DUI without a minor passenger, the judge can fine you between $300 and $1,000. However, when a minor is present in the vehicle, that fine will always be $1,000.
For a first-offense DUI with a minor passenger, your license will be suspended for 18 months.
Additionally, if your BAC was .10 or higher at the time of the offense, you will be required to drive with an ignition interlock device for a year. You must install the device on your primary vehicle at your expense.
Another mandatory penalty for this charge is 100 hours of community service.
Finally, unlike most first-offense DUIS, you will not be eligible for the diversionary program Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD).
Every criminal offense in Pennsylvania has a grading. If you are convicted of a first-offense DUI without a minor passenger, it is an ungraded misdemeanor. However, when a minor is present, the offense is graded as a first-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor is only one step below the lowest grade of felony.
Sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania are based on the grade of the offense. A first-degree misdemeanor could lead to a sentence between two and a half and five years of jail time.
Under PA law, you can be found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child if you have and fail in a duty to care for that child. Note that the definition does not require that the child was harmed. It is enough for the child to have been placed in harm’s way by your actions.
The prosecutor of your case might add child endangerment to your list of charged offenses. Since endangering the welfare of a child is also a first-degree misdemeanor, these charges could add another five years of jail time to your sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.
You could face even more serious charges if the child in the car was injured or killed. In the worst-case scenario, a child dying due to your drunk driving, you will likely face manslaughter charges.
Typically, you will be arrested at the time of the incident for a DUI. If there is another responsible adult who can take care of your child, they may be allowed to do so. However, if there isn’t, child services will usually take custody, at least until you are released on bail.
After your arrest, you will be booked by the arresting officer. During this process, you will likely be fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell.
From the moment you have completed chemical testing for a DUI, you have the right to consult with a criminal defense lawyer. You should forcefully affirm this right as soon as possible. Your lawyer can represent you during police interrogations, bail proceedings, and all other court appearances.
Typically, court appearances include the first one — a preliminary hearing/arraignment where your attorney can more closely examine the case against you and where the judge assigns bail (followed later by a plea) — and the last one, where the judge sentences you. This is because most cases end with a plea agreement negotiated by your attorney.
BAC is a critical concept of DUI offenses. In Pennsylvania, you are only considered to be too impaired to operate a motor vehicle if your BAC is at least .08. While the rules are different for minors and anyone driving commercial vehicles, this applies to most drivers.
In addition to BAC defining whether you are driving drunk, it also has an impact on sentencing.
You are considered to be generally impaired if your BAC is between .08 and .099. This is the lowest tier of impairment. At this level, you are subject to the penalties previously discussed.
The next level of impairment is for anyone with a BAC between .10 and .159. At this tier, you could face a fine of up to $5,000, and jail time is much more likely.
The highest level of impairment kicks in when you have a BAC of .16 or higher. While the maximum penalties don’t change one the first offense, a judge is most likely to sentence you to jail time when you get to this level.
Juvenile courts in Pennsylvania are more focused on rehabilitation than punishment. This means that if the driver is underage, their case is likely to be placed on a consent decree.
When a charge is placed on a consent decree, the juvenile faces many of the same consequences as if they had been convicted of the crime. The consent decree likely includes the following:
These penalties are typically less onerous than what an adult would face. If the juvenile completes all the requirements of the consent decree, their charges will be expunged at the end of the process.
The state takes a no-tolerance approach to underage DUIs. Anyone under 21 years old can be charged with a DUI if their BAC is .02 or higher. That is typically less than one drink of alcohol.
Additionally, PA has another offense known as minors driving with any alcohol in their systems. This kicks in when a minor has drunk any amount of alcohol before driving, even if they have a BAC too low to qualify for an underage DUI. This penalty includes a three-month driver’s license suspension.
Finally, anyone who is facing underage DUI charges is likely to also be facing charges for underage drinking or possession of alcohol by a minor. These are much lesser charges, and they will probably be included in the consent decree.
While Pennsylvania tries to deter DUIs with harsh penalties, it doesn’t only rely on the fear of jail time or major fines to prevent reoccurrence. One way the state tries to deal with this problem is through Pennsylvania Alcohol Awareness Classes.
These classes help DUI offenders become aware of the dangers of alcohol and the signs of addiction. It also helps them make better decisions in the future. They may be imposed by the court — even first-time offenders.
When a judge orders you to do something, it isn’t optional. In the case of an alcohol education program, this requirement is part of your probation. In other words, if you don’t complete the program as instructed, you can be found in violation of your probation.
While a judge may give you a second chance, you shouldn’t count on this. Refuse to complete this program, and a judge will probably throw you in jail. At a minimum, you can’t get your license restored until you complete this program.
If you have been arrested for a DUI with a minor passenger, you should contact a DUI criminal defense attorney immediately. Even if a judge goes easy on you, these charges will have serious consequences that stay with you for the rest of your life. And if you aren’t lucky, you could spend significant time in jail.
At McCormick & Vilushis LLC, our attorneys have decades of experience helping first-time offenders get ARD, plea deals, and sentences that let them rebound from their mistakes and return to normal life as quickly as possible. Contact our law firm today to schedule a consultation with a lawyer who can help.
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