DUI Frequently Asked Questions
Pittsburgh DUI Attorney David S. Shrager
http://www.shragerlawfirm.com/ (DETAILED ANSWERS BELOW)
After undertaking thousands of DUI cases over the past 30 years, Pittsburgh Attorney David S. Shrager answers the most commonly asked DUI questions.
SHOULD I TAKE THE BREATHALYZER TEST?
If you are facing your first DUI offense, you should always agree to take the breathalyzer test. Unless there are extensive negative facts involved, a first-time DUI offender will qualify for ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition ) which mandates only a 30-day driver's license suspension. If you refuse to take the breathalyzer and/or blood alcohol test, you will lose your license for one year IN ADDITION to any license suspension imposed via ARD. This does not mean that you must enroll in ARD, but it is often a beneficial alternative to going to trial if the evidence against you is strong. Usually a 30-day license suspension is not long enough to adversely affect one's ability to maintain a job, but a 13-month license suspension most likely would.
The answer changes, however, if you are facing a third or fourth DUI and therefore will be subject to penalties that are much greater. In any DUI case, there are two important but separate issues: the civil license suspension that is controlled by PennDot, and the DUI charge that is controlled by the criminal court. In cases where you are facing a conviction for a third or fourth DUI, it may be advantageous to refuse alcohol tests in order to strengthen your chances of winning in criminal court, even if this means that you will automatically lose your license for one year. Chances are that if you're in this situation, your license is likely already suspended, so it makes sense to fight for your personal freedom. Prosecutors can use the fact that you refused the breathalyzer and/or blood test against you in court; however, the judge will give the jury an instruction that they must also consider the reason you gave for refusing the test when determining how much weight they will give to the refusal.
WHAT IS ARD?
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) is a program for first-time DUI offenders that can prevent you from receiving a criminal record due to the DUI charge. There will never be a determination of guilt if you successfully complete the probationary program. Throughout the program, you will be required to complete certain classes and abide by the conditions that the judge imposes. Depending upon the severity of your blood-alcohol reading, the probationary period is typically six months to one year. Once you have fulfilled your requirements including paying court costs, the judge will close the case. If you are subsequently asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime, you can legally say "no" as it pertains to the DUI charge. In some counties, such as Allegheny County, the charge is automatically expunged, which means that there will be no trace of the incident. In some counties, however, you must file for an expungement in order to fully erase the footprints of the charge. In cases involving ARD in Allegheny County, our office always monitors the record to make sure the expungement occurs.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR ARD?
If you are a first-time DUI offender, and none of the following circumstances apply to you, you are generally eligible for the ARD program: 1) have been convicted of a felony, 2) have been convicted of two or more misdemeanors, or 3) have been convicted of a misdemeanor within the last 10 years.
IF I AM CONVICTED FOR A SECOND DUI, IS THERE MANDATORY JAIL TIME?
Technically yes – the legislature has imposed mandatory jail time requirements for subsequent DUI convictions. The length of the term varies based upon the tier in which you are placed, which depends your blood alcohol reading. The three tiers are below:
General Impairment (.08 to .099% BAC) – 5 days to 6 months
High BAC (.10 to .159% BAC) – 30 days to 6 months
Highest BAC (.16% and higher) – 90 days to 5 years
However, fortunately many counties including Allegheny County offer alternative housing, known as house arrest. Although house arrest is technically considered to be jail time, it allows you to serve your term within the confines of your own home. Additionally, you may be allowed to leave your home to go to work. Our firm has been very successful in making the proper argument to judges in order to assure that our clients do not spend one single day in county jail.
IS A DUI A FELONY OR MISDEMEANOR?
In the majority of cases, DUI convictions are misdemeanors, which are either "ungraded misdemeanors", 2nd degree misdemeanors, or 1st degree misdemeanors, with the latter being the most serious charge. This even includes multiple DUI convictions within the highest tier. There are times, however, when a DUI charge is a felony if someone other than the driver is injured or killed.