Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer

Need a Pennsylvania Criminal defense lawyer? Being charged with any kind of criminal offense can result in very serious consequences, and that’s why it is vital that you have the best possible legal advice and defense attorney. When it comes to finding a criminal defense lawyer Pennsylvania residents can enjoy a choice of lawyers with experience and expertise in criminal law. With an experienced criminal defense lawyer Pennsylvania residents that have been charged with a crime can maximize their chances of proving their innocence or getting a lenient sentence.

Whatever sorts of charges have been brought against you, getting an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania can make a big difference to the outcome. Depending on the charges, you could be facing hefty fines and even a stretch in prison, but an experienced defense lawyer will use his or her skills, knowledge, and expertise to help you. With the right legal counsel you could end up with a far lighter sentence or even an acquittal, so the importance of getting a lawyer to fight your corner in these circumstances cannot be underestimated.

Although it is important to get the advice and expertise of a lawyer, hiring the services of a criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania could prove costly. This is where you could find yourself in a sticky situation, where you are in need of the advice and assistance of a criminal defense lawyer but don’t have the financial ability to pay for these services. Pure lack of money could make a big difference to the outcome of the charged brought against you, and for many people this can change their lives completely.

These days there is no need to leave things to chance and risk being without the invaluable assistance of a criminal defense attorney. A prepaid legal services plan means that should you find yourself in this kind of situation you will have immediate and easy access to a fully experienced and skilled legal expert who can determine the best course of action based upon the crime with which you have been charged.

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PA Criminal Background Check Online – Discover How to Access Pennsylvania Criminal Records Easily

If you are looking for an accurate and reliable PA criminal background checks service online then you have come to the right place. Pennsylvania is the only state in USA which makes public criminal records openly available to the people who seriously want to perform background checks on other people.

You may find it difficult in the beginning on how to go about making a basic record search. But believe me it is a very simple process. You will find that there are various sources where you can access many Pennsylvania criminal records easily and quickly. Read further to discover the different sources to obtain PA criminal information.

1.PATCH search system: PATCH (Pennsylvania Access To Criminal History) is a background information research service available online which runs by the Pennsylvania State police. This service provides different types of records to the public. But the major disadvantages of this service is the complications involved in the system for searching any type of data and a non-refundable fee of $10 which is charged for every name you want to search in the system. If you make any typing mistakes or punctuation mistakes then your money is gone and you will have to make a new search by paying another $10 per new record.

If you find any incorrect information in their database then you can make a request to challenge the data. There are detailed instructions on the website on how to place your request for an information change. The response time is usually 30 days or more in this process.

2. Using premium criminal background check services: If you really don’t want to spend $10 for every search you make in the PATCH system then your best source of finding the most legitimate, reliable and accurate criminal records is a premium criminal records service. These services usually keeps their database updated all the time with their latest Internet search technology.

The additional advantage of using these services is that you can get extra information about any person you’re searching for. You will get unlimited access to their database for a minimal one-time fee which is nothing compared to the information they make available for you. You will get extra information like complete residential address, social networks details, contact numbers, work details, etc..

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How to Get Pennsylvania Criminal Records Quickly

Employers, do you have the perfect candidate for the job, but you want to know if he or she has been convicted of a crime?

How do you get Pennsylvania criminal records?

In Pennsylvania, state adult criminal history information is kept in two places.

At the county level, the records are kept by the main county courthouse in the county seat (the main city or town for that county). For example, criminal history information would be kept for Montgomery County in that county’s Courthouse, located in Norristown, PA. The records will be located in the Office of the Clerk of Quarter Sessions. A manual search of the written files, or electronic files, whether computer or microfiche, can be time-consuming but is possible.

At the state level, these records are kept by the State Police’s Central Repository in Harrisburg, PA. Access to these records is limited to the individual subject of the records, or his or her legal representative, to potential employers in certain situations or some noncriminal agencies. To obtain the records, a written form must be submitted accompanied by a fee and can take up to six weeks to the forwarded to the requestor.

In today’s electronic age, however, much legal information can be found online. Many counties maintain their own websites through which county records can be accessed. Who can obtain the information through these websites may be limited to certain individuals and/ or agencies. To find out more, you can contact the local county courthouse or bar association. The Pennsylvania State Police maintains a website through which the information can be requested, but any particulars of the records would be sent in hard copy form by US mail.

Finally, there are online websites that are fee-based but will gather the information and send it to you. Search results may include the individual’s name, date of birth, conviction date, offenses charged, disposition and risk level.

Rosanne O’Malley is a former legal professional currently exploring different avenues of opportunity on the Internet. Visit her site at www.goodcompanyandgooddiscourse.blogspot.com [http://www.goodcompanyandgooddiscourse.blogspot.com]

Have a Child Attending Penn State? You Need to Check Pennsylvania Criminal Records

Is your child headed off to college in the fall? Maybe he or she plans to attend Penn State University? If so, you may need to check Pennsylvania criminal records. If you live out of state, you should do some research on the crime rates in the area in which your child will be living and attending college. Even if you live in Pennsylvania, with nineteen branch campuses in addition to the main campus, your child may not be attending classes or sleeping in a dorm room close to home. Therefore, you may want to research the crime rates in the area in which that particular campus is located.

When researching Pennsylvania criminal records, you should search by county rather than city. Aside from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh, which are the major cities in Pennsylvania, most cities are small, with some being referred to rather as towns or villages. While a specific city may have a low crime rate, the county as a whole may have a much higher crime rate. Pennsylvania has an area of nearly 45,000 square miles, and the state contains sixty-seven counties. While some are, of course, larger than others, if divided equally, each county would have an area of less than seven hundred square miles. Therefore, it may be wise to research the county in which your child’s college is located and surrounding counties as well.

If your son or daughter is attending the main campus at University Park, you will want to check Centre County’s crime rates. When you do, you will find that they are much lower than the national average, with thefts and burglaries being the crimes that are committed the most. Both Penn State Hazleton and Penn State Wilkes-Barre are located in Luzerne County. While Hazelton and Wilkes-Barre do not have high crime rates, the county as a whole does. The city of Berwick is located in both Luzerne and Columbia counties, and the forcible rapes rate in Berwick is much higher than the national average. It is also higher than that of Philadelphia, one of Pennsylvania’s largest and most criminal cities. Of course, Philadelphia has a much higher population than Berwick, but that is taken into consideration when crime rates are calculated. Harrisburg is Pennsylvania’s capital city, and it is also a city in which a great deal of crime, such as murder, rape, and assault, is committed. The city’s crime rates are double and triple that of the national average. While Middletown’s crime rates are generally at or below the national average, Harrisburg is located only minutes away. Therefore, Dauphin County’s crime rates better reflect the risks of studying so close to a high crime area than Middletown crime rates do. When you send your child off to college, you want to be sure that he or she is going to be safe. When examining Pennsylvania criminal records, you need to be sure to look into the surrounding areas as well as the city that the campus is located in.

Simon Harris shows you how to search Pennsylvania Criminal Records at http://www.pennsylvania-criminal-records.com/

College Students and Pennsylvania Criminal Charges

Whether this is their first year or their last, all students need to be aware of the serious consequences they could face if a night of seemingly innocent fun ends in an arrest. Criminal charges for using a fake ID, underage drinking or marijuana possession can follow students around long after they have received their degrees.

Convictions for certain types of crimes, like marijuana possession, may result in the creation of a criminal record. Other charges, like underage drinking, may come up on a vehicle background check. A criminal record can make it difficult for students to secure employment in a highly competitive job market and may limit their options for entering graduate programs, like law school and medical school. Moreover, drug related convictions (including simple possession) can prevent students from receiving various types of student aid and student loans.

Pennsylvania Fake ID Laws

Minors under 21 years old who are caught with a fake identification card, use a fake ID to buy or attempt to buy alcohol or verbally communicate to someone that they are 21 or older to buy alcohol may be charged with one of these crimes:

* Misrepresentation of age to secure liquor or malt or brewed beverages (18 PA CSA 6307)

* Carrying a false identification card (18 PA CSA 6310.3)

False identification includes using or possessing another person’s id who is of legal age or using or possessing an id with false age, name and/or birth date information, regardless of whether it has the student’s own photograph on it.

First offenses for violating the state’s fake id laws are summary offenses and generally are punishable only by a fine. Subsequent offenses, however, are third degree misdemeanors and carry increased penalties. Penalties for violating these laws can include:

* $300 fine for a first offense

* $500 fine for a second or subsequent offense

* Up to 90 days in jail

* Loss of driving privileges for 90 days for a first offense, one year for a second offense and two years for a third offense

If a student is charged under one of the state’s fake ID laws, the police will notify their parents.
Underage Drinking (UAD)

College students under the legal drinking age who are caught buying or attempting to buy alcohol, drinking, in possession of alcohol or transporting alcohol in their vehicles may be charged under 18 PA CSA 6308 with an underage drinking offense. A first time UAD offense is treated as a summary offense, while subsequent offenses are treated as third degree misdemeanors.

The penalties for underage drinking in Pennsylvania include:

* $300 fine for first offense

* $500 fine for the second and each subsequent offense

* Up to 90 days in jail

* Loss of driving privileges for 90 days for a first offense, one year for a second offense and two years for a third offense

Marijuana Possession

The penalties for marijuana possession are more serious than those for underage drinking. The severity of the penalty depends on how much marijuana was in the student’s possession at the time of the arrest.

* If the amount was 30 grams or less, then the student may be charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana and sentenced to 30 days in jail and have to pay a maximum $500 fine

* If the amount was more than 30 grams, the student may be charged with possession of marijuana and sentenced up to one year in jail and have to pay a maximum $5000 fine

A student convicted of marijuana possession also will lose his or her driving privileges for 6 months for the first conviction, one year for a second conviction and two years for a third or subsequent conviction.

Students caught with drug paraphernalia in their possession? like a pot pipe? can be charged with an additional crime, which carries up to 1 year in jail and a maximum $2500 fine. The penalties for marijuana possession increase for any subsequent violations.
Effect of Drug Offenses on Student Aid

Aside from monetary fines and potential jail time, college students who are convicted under federal or state drug laws also face the potential of losing their rights to certain forms of student aid. Under the Higher Education Act of 1998, students convicted of any crime involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance are not eligible to receive any federal grant, loan or work assistance for a specified period of time, depending on the offense.

For example, if a college student is convicted of a drug possession crime, he or she is ineligible for student aid for a year following the conviction. The ineligibility period is extended to two years for a second offense, and a third or subsequent offense renders the student ineligible indefinitely.

The penalties for conviction of a crime involving the sale of a controlled substance are tougher: A first offense results in two years of financial aid ineligibility, while a second or subsequent offense means that the student is ineligible for an indefinite time.
Conclusion

If you have been charged with a crime, even a misdemeanor, it is important to begin working with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to minimize the consequences of the charges. In some cases, you may be able to complete a community service program or other type of accelerated rehabilitative diversionary (ARD) program to reduce or eliminate the penalties against you.

Do not underestimate the amount of trouble you may be in. A conviction for any crime can have devastating consequences for your college career and impact your ability to find employment after graduation.

Randolph L. Goldman has over thirty years of experience as Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney in the Pennsylvania courts. He is respected by prosecutors for his skill and determination, and when he comes to trial, he comes well-prepared and determined to get justice. His criminal defense law firm defends clients against all types of criminal charges, including drug possession, underage drinking, domestic violence [http://www.rgoldmanlawyer.com/PracticeAreas/Domestic-Violence.asp], theft and embezzlement.

You Have Been Charged With DUI In Pennsylvania – What to Expect Next

This article will discuss the process that a DUI charge follows in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system. All of the steps in this process listed in this article are based upon the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure and apply only to DUI cases which occur in Pennsylvania.

You’re driving home from dinner with friends and suddenly you hear a siren and see flashing lights in the rear view mirror. This scene, or a variant thereof, is replayed thousands of times a year in Pennsylvania. Most of those who find themselves in this situation are not “criminals” experienced with the criminal justice system, but average citizens who may have made an error in judgment or were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 519 allows police to release from custody those charged with a misdemeanor DUI. What this means is that you get to go home rather than to jail. Thus, after the police finish their DUI investigation most people are released and told that they will receive paperwork in the mail. This can be a very confusing time as one does not know what to expect. Many questions may remain unanswered at the time you are released. The most common question is “what happens now?”. I will list the next several steps in the process so that you can begin to plan how you will deal with the situation.

After one is released from a DUI arrest in Pennsylvania pursuant to Rule 519 the police officer files a “Criminal Complaint” with the local Magistrate’s office. The Magistrate’s Office will send a “summons” package to you containing that complaint and several other items via certified mail. This summons package will usually arrive between two and six weeks after you are released. The summons will generally contain three items.

First, the criminal complaint which contains a list of the charges filed against you and an “affidavit of probable cause”. This is a brief factual summary of what the police officer says happened and forms the legal basis for the filing of the criminal charges.

Second, the summons will usually contain a fingerprint order. The law in Pennsylvania requires that all persons charged with a crime must be fingerprinted. This would normally be done at the County Jail when an arrestee is processed. However, those released pursuant to Rule 519 are not taken to jail, and thus, not fingerprinted on the date of the incident. The order will require you to appear to be fingerprinted at a specific time. In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, most fingerprinting is done at the Bureau of Criminal Identification in downtown Pittsburgh. Failure to appear at the appointed time can result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. It should be noted that some Magistrates do not include the fingerprint order in the summons, but instead, give it to you when you appear before them for your Preliminary Hearing. So do not panic if you don’t find one with the other paperwork in the summons.

Finally, the summons will contain a “Notice of Preliminary Hearing”. This will list the date, time and place where your first court appearance will take place. This will generally, take place before the Magistrate who sent you the summons within several weeks. Again, failure to appear will result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. I will address what actually happens at the Preliminary Hearing and subsequent court appearances in a future article.

Pittsburgh DUI Lawyer George A. Heym is a former Prosecutor who now defends those charged with DUI in Western Pennsylvania.

DUI Information Site [http://www.DUI-News.info] It has a copy of the DUI Laws from every state, DUI Help Articles as well as a DUI Help Forum.

Pennsylvania DUI With Serious Bodily Injury or Death

The main reason why DUI is such a serious offense, other than harm to property or self, is the increased risk a drunk driver has to cause serious bodily harm or death to others. Under Pennsylvania law, these offenses are classified separately from the traffic offenses that do not involve DUI, and are punished more severely. In Pennsylvania, you are considered to be driving under the influence if you fall into one of the following categories:

Over the Legal Limit – BAC is .08%- .10% within two hours of driving a vehicle

High Rate of Alcohol – BAC is .10% – .16% within two hours of driving a vehicle

Highest Rate of Alcohol – BAC is .16% within two hours of driving a vehicle

Controlled Substances – Any measurable amount of a controlled substance, noxious substance, or solvent in a person’s blood whether or not the individual’s driving is affected

Minor – Individual is 21 or under and has BAC of 02% or higher

Commercial or School Vehicle Driver – BAC is .04% or higher within two hours of driving

Because alcohol absorption depends on a person’s weight, body chemistry, tolerance, and other factors, you could be driving under the influence if you are over the legal limit but not impaired. Generally it is not advised if a person of an average weight – say, 160 pounds – is going to be out drinking the equivalent of three or more 12 oz beers that he or she operate a motor vehicle. It could result in tragic, irreversible consequences such as an accident causing serious bodily harm or death.

Aggravated vehicular assault is defined as the operation of a motor vehicle with recklessness or gross negligence to the extent that it causes serious bodily injury to another individual. The person the harm is caused to can be inside or outside the vehicle. This offense is usually a third-degree felony. However, if you are found to be DUI when the offense is committed, the offense is upgraded to a second-degree felony, punishable by:

• Up to 10 years of prison
• $5,000 – $25,000 fine

It is important to remember that the injured party may also file a civil suit for damages incurred in the accident. You could be facing financial consequences far beyond your fines.

Arguably the worst outcome of driving under the influence is the death of another individual. If you are driving drunk and you hit a pedestrian, or if you cause an accident that results in the death of an individual in your vehicle or another, you could be facing a second-degree felony. In addition to facing the pain and suffering your mistake may have caused, and a possible wrongful death lawsuit, you also will be faced with:

• Up to 10 years of prison
• Minimum consecutive 3 years of prison
• Consecutive three-year term for each deceased victim
• $5,000 – $25,000 fine

If you’ve already been charged with DUI with serious bodily harm or vehicular homicide, a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney will be able to help you sort through your case and determine your most favorable defense options. Otherwise – don’t risk your future by recklessly endangering the lives of others. If you know you are going to be drinking, secure a designated driver.

Mike Skinner is a West Chester DUI lawyer and founder of the Skinner Law Firm, LLC. Skinner is passionate about defending the rights of his DUI clients and fighting for favorable outcomes in their cases. As a former Assistant District Attorney for Chester County, Skinner has experience in many different types of DUI cases, from first DUI to vehicular assault. As the leader of his own firm, Skinner treats all of his clients with care while working to protect their future.

How to Get Pennsylvania Adult Criminal Records Expunged or Erased

A criminal record can have a very serious negative impact upon your life. It can hurt your reputation, lessen your earnings capacity, keep you from obtaining licenses or certifications in certain professions (for example, lawyer or teacher) or keep you from being employed at all. To the extent that you can, if you have such a record, you should have it expunged as soon as possible.

In Pennsylvania, to get adult criminal records expunged, the individual must file a Petition for Expungement with the Court of Common Pleas in the county in which the offenses occurred. At the time the petition is filed, a hearing is scheduled before a judge who will determine if the expungement request should be granted.

With two exceptions, only non-conviction data can be expunged. Non-conviction data includes:

1. Arrest records that show no disposition took place after 18 months and the court of the proper jurisdiction certifies that no action is pending.

2. Cases that were dismissed or discharged because of lack of evidence or lack of prosecution or because there was no finding of guilt after trial.

3. Cases that were dismissed or discharged because the offender successfully complied with the terms and conditions of certain pretrial dispositions such as the ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition) program.

Conviction data may be expunged where the offender is 70 years old and has been free of arrest for at least ten years following his or her final release from supervision. It may also be expunged where the offender had been deceased for at least three years.

In determining if the request for expungement should be granted, the court will take into consideration many factors. These include damage to the individual’s reputation, his livelihood and future earnings capacity, the nature and gravity of the offense, the individual’s prior criminal history and the state’s interest in preserving the record to protect the public.

State law specifically prohibits the courts from expunging records, even though the offender has successfully complied with the terms of ARD where he or she had been charged with certain sexual assault or related offenses against victims under the age of 18.

The Court order for expungement will be promptly submitted to the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository for Criminal History Information in Harrisburg, Pa. This agency will disseminate the order for expungement to all other agencies who have previously receive the information that is the subject of the order.

It is important to have complete and accurate criminal history information when filing your request. The Petition for and proposed Order of Expungement must contain by statute information such as the subject’s name, date of birth, social security number, the offenses with which the subject was charged, the case’s docket number, the offense tracking number and the disposition of the case. If this information is not contained in the Petition, the court will dismiss it.

Rosanne O’Malley is a former legal professional with hands on experience with the Pennsylvania legal system. Currently, she is looking for different opportunities and experiences. To visit her website, with many different articles on subjects of interest to her and hopefully others, visit [http://www.goodcompanyandgooddiscourse.blogspot.com]

Pennsylvania Expungement Process

Whether you made some poor choices in your youth or you were involved in an isolated unfortunate incident, you do not want any record of a criminal charge to haunt you for the remainder of your life. A criminal record can have a negative impact on your ability to gain employment, housing, or public benefits.

The good news is that Pennsylvania does allow certain people to petition for expungement, meaning their juvenile or adult criminal records are sealed such that future employers or landlords will not see any convictions that have been expunged. However, this process can be extremely complicated, and it may take several months or possibly even years to finally get a record expunged.

Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (C.S.) Title 18 § 9122, a criminal record may be expunged when:

No disposition was received or recorded within 18 months after the date of arrest and the court certifies that no disposition is available and no action is pending
A court order requires nonconviction data be expunged
A person 21 years of age or older convicted of a violation relating to purchase, consumption, possession, or transportation of alcohol on or after the day he or she turned 18 years of age who has satisfied all terms and conditions of the sentence imposed for the violation
A person who has reached 70 years of age and free of arrest or prosecution for 10 years following final release from confinement or supervision
A person who has been dead for three years
A person who has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years following conviction for the summary offense he or she is seeking to have expunged
A person accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program who has paid all fines and completed all terms and conditions of his or her probation

Not everyone is able to have his or criminal record expunged. Under Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 9122(b.1), state courts do not have the authority to expunge the records of any person who was placed into the ARD program for any of the following violations in which the victim was under 18 years of age:

Rape, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 3121
Statutory sexual assault, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 3122.1
Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 3123
Sexual Assault, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 3124.1
Aggravated Indecent Assault, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 3125
Indecent Assault, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 3126
Indecent Exposure, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 3127
Prostitution and related offenses, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 5902(b)
Obscene and other sexual materials and performances, Pennsylvania C.S. Title 18 § 5903

It can be difficult to get your record expunged, but the rewards are generally worth the effort if you are eligible for the process. By having any conviction or arrest expunged, you no longer have to live with fears of your criminal record interfering in any future jobs, leasing, or other applications.

Michael J. Skinner is the founder of the Skinner Law Firm in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He is a former Chester County Assistant District Attorney who has years of experienced prosecuting and defending people accused of criminal offenses. Skinner helps residents with record sealing and expunging in Chester County, Lancaster County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, and surrounding areas of Southeast Pennsylvania.

DUI Law in Pennsylvania – An Overview

Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) is a unique crime in American society because, quite literally, it is the one crime that almost any adult citizen can find himself or herself charged with. Alcohol is served at virtually every restaurant or evening social event. Every day thousands of otherwise-law-abiding citizens leave such events and drive away even though they are technically “under the influence” of alcohol.

The fact is that most adult Americans drink alcohol on at least occasional situations. And, most adult Americans live in non-urban areas where taxicabs and public transportation are not easy options, particularly in the evening hours. Everyone knows that it is preferable to have a “designated driver” who is not drinking and can drive you home. Everyone also knows that driving under the influence is illegal and can have severe ramifications. The reality, however, is that every day good and honest people find themselves charged with DUI.

It is important for all drivers to have a basic understanding of DUI law, how police officers conduct DUI investigations and the rights and options available to DUI defendants.

I. DUI Law — The Basics

For many people charged with DUI, the arrest process is truly terrifying and dehumanizing. Many (or most) DUI defendants pride themselves on being productive and positive citizens, so being handcuffed and treated like a criminal can be a life-altering experience. A DUI arrest is less overwhelming and intimidating, however, when people have a basic understanding of DUI law.

A person may be charged with DUI if he or she drives a motor vehicle on a roadway under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police may stop a car for suspicion of DUI only if they have “probable cause” to believe that the driver has committed a crime or violation. Police may not randomly stop a car for no reason (although in the case of properly established “sobriety checkpoints, the police are permitted to stop every car that passes the checkpoint).

The type of “crime” which can justify a police vehicle stop includes potential violations of the vehicle code (traffic violations) such as speeding, straddling a lane, turning with a wide radius, following another car too closely, braking erratically or driving at night with the headlights off. The police may also stop a vehicle if the registration or inspection is out-of-date (based on dated stickers on the car) or if they input the license plate into their computer system (which they are allowed to do) and there is some problem with the vehicle registration.

Pennsylvania DUI law has a three-tiered punishment system depending on a person’s blood-alcohol level. Penalties for DUI convictions increase with each tier. The least severe penalty applies for those who drive with a blood alcohol content of.08 to.099 percent. More severe penalties apply for those who drive with a blood alcohol content from.10 to.159 percent, and the harshest punishment applies to those with a blood alcohol content of.16 percent or greater. A person’s blood alcohol level must be determined from blood drawn within two hours after the individual was in actual control of the vehicle (although exceptions exist for this two-hour “requirement”).

People who “refuse” or decline to take a blood-alcohol test upon request of the police are deemed to be in the highest blood-alcohol content tier.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has a “per se” law with respect to driving under the influence of various drugs. This means that if a person charged with DUI has any measurable amount of drugs in their system (even if the drug was ingested days or weeks prior to the arrest), they are punished as if they were in the highest alcohol level. Despite this “per se” law, some District Attorneys offices do have minimum levels for certain controlled substances and will not prosecute someone who drives with an amount in their system below these levels.

II. DUI Investigations After Police Are On The Scene

Police officers are taught that once they encounter a person who they suspect has been driving under the influence (which is typically after a traffic stop or arriving at the scene of an accident), they should conduct an appropriate investigation to confirm whether the person was driving under the influence. District Attorney’s offices want such investigations to be thorough and legally appropriate so that they can prove the case if it proceeds to trial.

The first stop in conducting such an investigation is typically to engage the driver in Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Standardized Field Sobriety Tests were developed as the result of research conducted in the mid 1970s for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). The purpose of this research was to develop standardized tests which would provide a reliable method of determining whether a person is intoxicated based on field sobriety tests.

The NHTSA has concluded that three tests, if systematically conducted according to strict guidelines, can predict whether a person may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The only three field sobriety tests approved by the NHTSA are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) test, the Walk-and-Turn test the One-Leg Stand test.

Police officers should be trained to look for established “scoring factors” or “clues” which must be evaluated in determining whether or not intoxication exists. A finding of intoxication should only arise once a certain number of clues are identified. If less then the certain level of clues are identified, the officer should conclude that there a high degree of probability of non-intoxication.

For cases that proceed to trial, it is important for defense counsel to carefully question police officers with respect to their field sobriety test training and adherence to NHTSA protocols. If a police officer is unsure of these protocols and/or the NHTSA-approved indicator system, his or her conclusions can lose credibility with a judge or jury.

These three standardized field sobriety tests are detailed below:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) Test

Horizontal gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyeball which occurs naturally as the eyes rotate in the socket. In theory, a sober person can visually follow a moving object smoothly and without nystagmus (“stopping and starting” of the eyeball). Nystagmus is typically exaggerated when a person is under the influence of alcohol, resulting in a jerking motion as the eyes rotate. In the HGN test, the officer slowly moves an object such as a pen or small flashlight back and forth in front of a person’s eyes and observes the actual eye movement. The examiner looks for three indicators of impairment with respect to each eye: (1) if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, (2) if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and (3) if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center. The NHTSA has concluded that if, between the two eyes, four or more indicators are present, the subject likely has a BAC of 0.10 or greater.

It is important to note that even the NHTSA acknowledges that the HGN testing correctly classifies approximately 77 percent of suspects. Accordingly, the HGN test will result in many false positives and cannot be considered a reliable indicator of intoxication. Indeed, the HGN is not admissible in Pennsylvania courts although police are permitted to use the test to establish probable cause to arrest. People taking certain prescribed medication may also “fail” the HGN test even though they are not intoxicated.

Walk-and-Turn Test

In the walk-and-turn test, the subject is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line and then turn on one foot before returning in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner is taught to look for seven possible indicators, or “clues”, of impairment. If two or more clues are identified, a person is considered to be likely intoxicated.

Significantly, the NHTSA concedes that only 68 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.10 or greater. Additionally, a person may have some reason unrelated to intoxication — such as a physical disability, high-heeled shoes, naturally poor balance — that makes it more difficult to complete the test. It is very important to point out these issues to a judge or jury when a case goes to trial.

One-Leg Stand Test

In the one-leg stand test, a person is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The NHTSA protocols call for the examiner to observe the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for indicators of impairment including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down.

The NHTSA itself admits that only 65 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more such indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.10 of greater. And, like the walk-and-turn test, there are many factors other then intoxication that can make it difficult for a person to stand on one foot for 30 seconds. Certainly there are many people who cannot stand on one leg for 30 seconds under any circumstances.

In analyzing the strength of a DUI case, it is important to carefully examine field sobriety test evidence. In many cases, police officers do not administer the test in full compliance with NHTSA guidelines. Cross-examining police officers with NHTSA protocols or even the police department’s own training manuals may expose a lack of knowledge and understanding in conducting these tests. At trial, all of these factors must be fully explored so that a judge or jury understand the fallibility of field sobriety testing.

III: Blood Alcohol Testing

Pennsylvania state law provides that the police may not perform a chemical test of a driver’s blood alcohol content (i.e., a breath test or a blood test) unless there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the driver was operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. As described above, the police use field sobriety tests to help develop “reasonable grounds” to submit motorists to chemical testing.

By law, people who drive a vehicle in Pennsylvania are deemed to have given their consent (agreed) to provide a breath, blood or urine sample when requested to do so by the police if (and only if) the police have reasonable grounds and have arrested the person for DUI. Motorists who refuse chemical testing (assuming reasonable grounds to arrest exist) will have their license suspended for at least one year by PennDOT, and the fact that they “refused” the test may be used against them at trial.

From a defense standpoint, it is important to carefully examine whether the police appropriately developed “reasonable grounds” to believe a driver may have committed a DUI. Where “reasonable grounds” are found not to exist, all subsequent chemical testing may be suppressed.

Alcohol is absorbed into the body through the stomach and small intestine over time. Alcohol has no physiological effect on the body or brain until it is absorbed into the blood stream. The rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream depends on many factors including the type of alcohol and whether the person has a full or empty stomach. Food in the stomach significantly delays the absorption of alcohol and reduces the peak level of blood-alcohol content. Regarding the type of alcohol, the ingredients in beer act almost like a food and delay the absorption of the alcohol as opposed to liquor or wine. Alcohol is eliminated from the body at approximately 0.015 % per hour.

The two most common chemical blood tests are blood testing and breath testing.

Blood Testing

Pennsylvania law requires employees at to withdraw blood samples on DUI suspects unless there are emergency situations at the time the request is made. Pennsylvania law also requires that blood (and urine) tests be performed at licensed and approved clinical laboratories using approved testing methods and equipment.

It is important to carefully examine blood test results to determine if the variance or margin of error may include the possibility that the true blood-alcohol content was in a lower tier or below 0.08 percent altogether. If a person’s blood-alcohol content is tested to be, say, 0.10 percent, no toxicologist (or prosecutor) can say with any certainty that the person’s actual blood alcohol concentration was above or below this level. Virtually every toxicologist will concede that there is a variance of 3 to 10 percent within which the actual blood alcohol content would likely fall.

Importantly, the Department of Health requires laboratories conducting blood-alcohol testing to test within 9 percent of a “known sample” in order to maintain their accreditation. Accordingly, many toxicologists contend that the margin of error of blood testing at such accredited labs should be presumed to be no less that 9 percent.

Even if someone elects to seek admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program or plead guilty to DUI it is important to evaluate whether the documented blood-alcohol content can be reduced using a margin-of-error analysis. Anyone charged with DUI should carefully review all of these issues with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Breath Testing

Police frequently test blood-alcohol content by subjecting the motorist to a “breathalyzer” machine. These machines are different from — and much more sophisticated than — the “portable breath test” units police use to test blood-alcohol content at the scene of the stop. To be admissible at trial, breath tests must be conducted in conformity with regulations set forth by PennDOT. These regulations require the machine to be regularly calibrated and the person operating the test to be appropriately certified. Additionally, the regulations require that two breath test samples be taken which must be within 0.02 percent of each other. A failure of the police to comply with any of these regulations can result in the results being suppressed (ruled inadmissible) at trial.

As with blood testing, breath test results have a margin of error that should be considered in determining a person’s actual blood-alcohol content.

IV: Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition Program (ARD)

People charged with a first offense DUI in Pennsylvania may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. ARD is a pre-trial intervention program that is designed to divert first-time, non-violent offenders from the criminal justice system.

Admission into the ARD program results in no jail time and a greatly reduced license suspension. District Attorneys’ offices are permitted to have their own unique criteria and conditions for admission into an ARD program. It is important to understand that cases that may qualify for ARD in one county might not for another. It is also important to understand the procedures defendants must follow in each county to be eligible for ARD.

While some ARD terms and conditions are negotiable, there are certain terms and conditions that are imposed by statute and are non-negotiable. A person admitted into ARD must serve six to 24 months of non-reporting probation and will have to attend and successfully complete Alcohol Highway Safety School, undergo a Court Reporting Network (CRN) drug and alcohol evaluation and pay certain fines and costs.

Once a person has successfully completed the ARD program, the criminal charges are legally dismissed. The person may then file a petition with the court to have all records of the arrest expunged from his or her criminal background history report.

It is important to note that when a person is charged with DUI following an accident with injuries or property damage, or if a person has an extremely high blood alcohol level, he or she may not be entitled to admission into the ARD program.

V: Typical Defenses to DUI Charges

Naturally, it is impossible to list all the potential defenses to a DUI case because every DUI case is different. Many defenses to DUI cases, however, involve one or more of the following theories:

Was the person actually driving? To prove a DUI case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was physically in control of a motor vehicle on a roadway. If the police cannot prove the person was actually driving (such as in the case of an accident where no one witnessed who was driving or if someone is asleep in a parked car) or that the person was driving on a roadway (such as when a person is stopped in certain parking areas or driveways), the person may have a legitimate defense to the charge of DUI.

Did the police have probable cause to stop the vehicle and question the defendant? The police need to have probable cause to stop a person’s vehicle, question that person and conduct a subsequent investigation unless a Constitutionally-recognized exception applies. Generally speaking, evidence will be suppressed in a DUI case if the officer did not have probable cause to (a) stop the vehicle, (b) detain the person, and (c) arrest that person. Sobriety roadblocks can present an exception to the “probably cause” standard and present a different set of legal and factual issues.

Was the person read his rights / Miranda warnings? Incriminating statements may be suppressed if the proper Miranda warnings were not given at the appropriate time if a person was subjected to custodial interrogation. Miranda warnings are usually not an issue in DUI prosecutions because prosecutors rarely seek to use a person’s words against them at a DUI trial. However, if the prosecutor does seek to use the person’s words at trial, the Miranda warnings can become an issue.

Was a person appropriately informed of the Implied Consent warnings? If the officer did not advise a person of the consequences of refusing to take a chemical test as part of a DUI investigation, or provides inadequate or incorrect information, then any PennDOT suspension for failing to take such a test can be avoided.

Did the person truly appear to be “under the influence”? At a DUI trial, a police officer is generally allowed to offer his or her opinion regarding whether a driver was intoxicated. Naturally, an officer’s observations and opinions in this regard can be cross-examined. Appropriate questioning can include (1) the nature and circumstances surrounding any field sobriety tests (was the weather a factor? did the defendant have any pre-existing medical issues? was the defendant wearing shoes or clothing that affected field sobriety testing) (2) the subjective (and perhaps predisposed) nature of what an officer considers as “failing” a field sobriety test, (3) whether the officer complied with standardized field sobriety guidelines, and (4) whether the field sobriety tests were witnessed by any third party or videotaped by the police.

Was the person’s blood-alcohol concentration tested accurately and appropriately? There are a wide range of potential issues with blood, breath and urine testing for blood-alcohol content. Blood testing involves a recognized margin of error and variance which must be considered in evaluating test results. Many toxicologists contend that the margin of error of blood testing at state-accredited labs should be presumed to be no less than 9 percent. With respect to breath tests, some toxicologists maintain that the margin of error ought to be considered at 10 percent. Most toxicologists agree that it is also important to understand the physiological makeup of the person charged (male or female, height and weight) before offering a final opinion on the appropriate margin of error or variance with respect to blood alcohol testing.

VI: Conclusion

Driving Under the Influence is a charge that can affect almost anyone. Most people drink alcohol at least occasionally and live in areas where taxicabs and public transportation are not always a realistic option. The result is that many people find themselves, at some point in their lives, driving an automobile after consuming alcohol.

A DUI charge is almost always a traumatic and upsetting experience to the person charged. Many DUI defendants are good and law-abiding persons who are not used to being charged with a crime or being required to appear in court.

Fortunately, our law recognizes that people charged with a first-offense DUI frequently deserve a second chance at a clean criminal record. With the availability of first-time offender’s programs such as ARD, many people in our society have been charged with DUI, navigated through the system, and emerged from the process to live productive and fulfilling lives.

It is important for anyone charged with a DUI to have a basic understand of the law and the available rights and options. Armed with this information, and appropriate legal representation, persons charged with DUI can address the charges in a responsible way and ultimately put the entire experience behind them.