What Is the Penalty for Your First DUI in Pennsylvania?

dui image: handcuffs around an alcoholic drink and car keys

The lights and sirens have passed. The breath tests are over. You’re left facing drunk driving charges. You’ve never done this before, or at least, you’ve never been stopped. You've made it home and sobered up, but the story doesn't end there. You're facing court dates, charges, and more. Now you’re left wondering what is the penalty for your first DUI in Pennsylvania?


PA DUI Penalties for First Offenses

Pennsylvania DUI law breaks drunk driving down into categories based on two things:

  1. Past DUI convictions
  2. Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)

The more often you have been in court for alcohol-related offenses, and the more alcohol was in your system at the time of the traffic stop or arrest, the higher your DUI penalties will be. If this is your first time facing drunk driving charges you won’t need to worry about how “habitual” charges will increase the consequences of conviction. However, your maximum penalty will still depend on just how drunk you were at the time:

First Offense General Impairment Penalties (0.08% - 0.099% BAC)

First Offense General Impairment is an ungraded misdemeanor. If you are convicted of General Impairment and have no prior DUI offenses, you could face:

  • Up to 6 months probation
  • $300 fine
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Alcohol highway safety school

First Offense High BAC Penalties (0.10% - 0.159% BAC)

A High BAC conviction is still an ungraded misdemeanor, but it raises the penalties, even for a first offense. If convicted with no prior DUI offenses, you could face:

  • 48 hours to 6 months in prison
  • $500 to $5,000 fine
  • 12 month license suspension
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Alcohol highway safety school

First Offense Highest BAC Penalties (0.16% or Higher BAC)

For convictions involving the highest levels of blood alcohol, the penalties are even higher. A Highest BAC conviction with no prior DUI offenses could include the following penalties:

  • 72 hours to 6 months in prison
  • $1,000 to $5,000 fine
  • 12 month license suspension
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Alcohol highway safety school

Even at this highest level the penalty for your first DUI is lower than it could be for repeated offenses. If you end up returning to court on new drunk driving charges later you may face higher degree misdemeanor charges, increased prison time and fines, additional license suspensions, and mandatory use of an ignition interlock device.

PA DUI Penalties for Minors and Commercial Drivers

Depending on how old you are, or what you do for a living, you may face even stricter DUI laws. Pennsylvania’s Zero Tolerance law means that the penalty for your first DUI will be much higher if you are under age 21. Minors age 18-21 found driving with even small amounts of alcohol in their systems (0.02% BAC) face the same penalties as an adult found with a High BAC:

  • 48 hours to 6 months in prison
  • $500 to $5,000 fine
  • 12 month license suspension
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Alcohol highway safety school

Commercial drivers, like bus drivers, taxi drivers, and others who make their living on the road also have to be careful. A first DUI conviction could carry High BAC penalties even at lower alcohol levels. Because these penalties include a license suspension, if you are a commercial driver even a first DUI could threaten your career and your livelihood.

What Blood-Alcohol Testing Means for DUI Penalties

It is often difficult to know ahead of time what your blood alcohol content will be after drinking. The number of drinks, their alcohol by volume, the rate at which you were drinking, your body composition, and even your medications can all affect your blood alcohol content after a night out. If you didn’t feel “really drunk” when you got behind the wheel, you may wonder if the test itself could become part of your DUI defense.

It is true that an experienced DUI lawyer can look into the method and the machines used to determine your blood alcohol level. Sometimes, these devices can be used incorrectly to say a person is more intoxicated than they appear. However, even if you were not above the legal blood alcohol limit, Pennsylvania prosecutors can still pursue DUI charges against you for “impaired driving” if your ability to operate the vehicle was affected by the alcohol in your system. In some cases, these “impaired driving” charges also arise when other medications interact with the alcohol in a driver’s system to raise concerns about their abilities behind the wheel. In these cases, you and your DUI attorney will need to do more to establish a defense and avoid DUI penalties.

Avoiding DUI Penalties Through Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)

Sometimes, the best way to avoid DUI penalties is not to go to trial in the first place. Pennsylvania has an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program available to first-time offenders with no prior criminal convictions. This is a one-time-only option. If you have never faced criminal charges before, you may be able to complete community service, treatment, and rehabilitation programs as ordered by the court and then petition the court to expunge your record. Each case is considered individually, so even successful completion doesn’t guarantee you will walk away with a clean record. However, it may be a way to minimize the effect of a first-time DUI penalty on your freedom, career, and your life.

At Berman & Associates, our experienced Delaware County DUI defense attorneys know how even a first DUI conviction can change your life. We will help you consider your options and build a defense to help you avoid DUI penalties. If you are in Delaware County, Media, Pennsylvania, or the surrounding areas, we welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your criminal case.

Categories: Criminal Law, DUI