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Pennsylvania Enacts DUI Repeat Offense Provision

In late 2014, a key change to Pennsylvania’s DUI laws was enacted that has the potential to change how a repeat DUI offense is charged and what penalties are imposed.

 

Prior to the enactment of Senate Bill 1239, individuals charged with a DUI could not be charged as a repeat offender unless they had been convicted of a prior DUI before they were arrested for the new DUI offense.  The number of prior convictions within ten years was, essentially, determined as of the date of arrest.  This led to instances where individuals accumulated multiple DUI offenses before the criminal proceedings progressed to a conviction on the first one, causing all of the DUI’s to be considered the same level of offense subject to the same corresponding level of penalties.  For example, an individual who received a first DUI charge in January and a second DUI charge in February before the first DUI had yet gone to trial would be charged with two first offenses because no conviction had yet occurred prior to the second arrest. This was considered a “loophole” in the DUI law that permitted individuals to escape the heightened penalties levied against repeat offenders.

 

Senate Bill 1239 changed this by inserting language into the portion of the DUI statute that addresses repeat offenses, specifically Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 75, Section 3806, which dictates that the calculation of prior offenses “shall include any conviction, whether or not judgment of sentence has been imposed for the violation, adjudication of delinquency, juvenile consent decree, acceptance of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition or other form of preliminary disposition within the ten years before the sentencing on the present violation.”  This change means that the number of prior convictions within ten years will be determined at the time of sentencing, subjecting individuals to the increased penalties for repeat DUI’s.

 

However, an interesting consequence of this change is that a true first offense DUI could be treated as a repeat offense if the second DUI charges progress through the system faster, resulting in a conviction before the true first DUI reaches trial.  This scenario is possible if the DUI arrests were in different counties where they would progress at different paces, or if one DUI was significantly more complex than the other, potentially due to an accident with injuries.  This adds another level of complexity to cases with multiple pending DUI charges as the nature of the charges can, and likely will, change as the prosecution progresses.

 

This may also have an impact on civil litigation, as a civil litigant with no prior criminal history could have a conviction for a “second offense” DUI for the incident that also gave rise to the civil claims. Exploration into the DUI charge and conviction will be required to ensure that a first offense in time is a also first offense under the DUI law, and to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to prevent references to any other DUI offenses.