A DUI based on alcohol is the most common DUI in Pennsylvania. There are two ways a person can be charged with DUI based on Alcohol. A lot of my clients ask why they are charged with two types of DUI? That is because the prosecutors try as many ways to convict you as they can. The two standard Pennsylvania alcohol DUI charges are General Impairment and your Blood Alcohol Level. Here they are in more detail:
General Impairment DUI:
1. This is also called driving while impaired. The Commonwealth must prove that you consumed enough alcohol that it made you incapable of driving safely and that you then, drove, operated, or were in actual physical control of a vehicle. There is no specific blood alcohol concentration (BAC) needed for this offense. How much alcohol is needed to make you incapable of driving safely differs for every person. This means you can still be charged with this offense even if your BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) level is below the legal limit.
Blood Alcohol Limit:
2. This is also called the per se charges. Measurement of BAC (Blood Alcohol Content): The government must prove your BAC level to be equal to or greater than .08% within two hours of driving, operating, or being in actual physical control of a vehicle. The Commonwealth does not have to prove an offender was incapable of driving safely, only that the BAC was above .08% within two hours of last driving or being in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle. In Pennsylvania BAC is determined by either blood or breath testing – no other testing method is approved.
This DUI offense has increased penalties depending upon the amount of alcohol in your blood. If the BAC is .08-.10, or if a blood test is refused,, it is a tier 1 offense. If the BAC is between .10-.159 or you there is an associated road traffic accident that causes property damage, it’s a tier 2 offense. If BAC is .16 or higher or you refused a breath test or a search warrant for your blood, that’s a tier 3 offense. The higher the tier, the more severe the punishment can be if convicted. Please refer to the PA DUI Sentencing Chart. (hyperlink this to the DUI sentencing chart in the criminal resources section)
On the criminal complaint Driving While Impaired is often shortened to General Imp. in places on the criminal complaint. Often when I speak to new clients on the phone, they ask me what does General Imp. mean? Well, it is shorthand for General Impairment. That charge is what I call the old-fashioned drunk driving charge.
Above we spoke about general impairment in legal terms. Now, what does that mean in English? It means a person is guilty if they drank enough alcohol that a fact finder, Judge, or Jury, believes they can’t drive safely. What it does not mean is a person has to be drunk. It means a person cannot have consumed enough alcohol so that they can’t safely drive. Safely driving is a subjective call. That is where the defense comes in. It also does not mean a person cannot stand on one foot and be stiff as a board. It does not mean a person who cannot walk a straight line in a way no normal person walks. What the police do not tell you is that the field sobriety tests that they administer are only gauges of a person’s blood alcohol content. They even say that in the Field Sobriety testing manuals. One of the scientists who worked to standardize these tests, Dr. Marceline Burns, even testified to that. This is why knowing what the tests are about gives you an edge in defending DUI cases.
Then there are the Blood Alcohol Content DUI charges. You are guilty of a Pennsylvania DUI IF the government can prove your blood alcohol content over one of the levels mentioned above. Please note that I said IF they can prove the blood alcohol levels. There are many issues related to blood testing that can be found by a lawyer trained in what to look for. They are not always there but they are there quite frequently. Please refer to my blog How to Expose Bad Blood Tests in Pennsylvania Alcohol DUI Cases.