Up until December of 2018, the only time you could be charged with a felony related to a DUI offense is if someone was seriously injured or killed. If someone was seriously injured the charge would be Aggravated Assault by Vehicle While DUI. If someone was killed the charge would be Homicide by Vehicle While DUI. The actual DUI charge itself was still graded as a misdemeanor even if someone was hurt or killed.
On December 24, 2018, that all changed. On that day the new DUI grading and sentencing law came into effect in Pennsylvania. Certain DUI offenses are now graded as felonies. A felony DUI now has a mandatory minimum of one year with a maximum of seven years. The way the law is written now the jail time has to be served in state prison.
A person’s third offense in ten years with a BAC of .16 % or higher or if the DUI is drug-related is now graded as a felony. All fourth DUI offenses in ten years are now felonies. The only exception to the one-year mandatory minimum in state prison is if it is a fourth offense and a person has a BAC below .10 % or is charged with a general impairment DUI. A person can be charged under the general impairment section in Pennsylvania if that person has imbibed a sufficient amount of alcohol to make them incapable of safe driving.
As I said above drug-based third or fourth offense DUI charges in ten years mean a person is facing a minimum of one up to seven years in state prison. Drugs include prescription drugs that are legally taken as prescribed, as well as prescription drugs that are prescribed. It also includes prescribed medical marijuana.
People who call us for representation in these matters often ask how we defend against these DUI charges. The answer is more than just aggressively and hard like most lawyers say. Aggressive and hard are not enough. We defend these charges using decades of experience and most importantly science. My team is trained in field sobriety testing, analytical chemistry, pharmacology, and many more areas relevant to defending DUI cases. We are constantly learning to know as much, if not more than, the police, lab technicians, and toxicologists the government always calls as witnesses in these cases. This firm also keeps up on new developments with the law.
Here is one example of how knowing analytical chemistry and what to look for saved a client from state prison in an alcohol-based DUI. The person was charged with her third offense in 10 years. The lab said her BAC was .17 % with an uncertainty of +/- .01. with 99.87% uncertainty. That means the lab was 99.87% certain that her blood is anywhere from .16 %to .18 %. In Pennsylvania .16 %or greater is the highest tier and for a third offense in ten that is a mandatory minimum of 1 year in state prison. The DA was unwilling in this case to lower the offense to a middle-tier first-degree misdemeanor offense with a mandatory minimum of 90 days that can be spent in county jail.
What we did was subpoena all of the data on the test from the lab. About 250 pages worth of data. The data was revealing. Turns out there were three test results and .17 % was none of them. They had three different test results and the lowest was .167 %. The lab averaged them to .17 % and reported it to the police. The lab never told the police officer that the lowest test result was .167 %. That is significant. That means with an uncertainty of +/- .01 and a confidence interval of 99.87% the range of possible test results was now .157 % to .177 %. The lowest possible result, .157 %, is less than .16 %. The confidence interval of 99.87% means that every test result is equally as likely to be the true test result. Thus, .157 %is equally as likely to be the true test result as .177 %. As a result, the prosecution would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that our client’s blood was greater than .16 % thus making it a felony DUI. Once we showed this data to the DA the case was settled favorably for a county sentence.
A good example of keeping up with the law recently helped another of our clients who was facing a felony DUI based on Medical Marijuana. In Pennsylvania, it is still illegal to drive with any amount of THC in a person’s blood, even if the THC comes from lawfully prescribed medical marijuana because THC is a Schedule I drug. However, a case was recently decided that takes Medical Marijuana out of schedule I if the medical marijuana patient is complying with the medical marijuana laws. We presented this new case to the prosecutor and it resulted in a very favorable result for our client. Our client will not be a felon or go to state prison because of the case law we presented to the prosecutor.