Understanding Pennsylvania’s 10-year look-back period for DUI charges

While most of us know drinking and driving isn’t a good idea, sometimes mistakes happen, and you may be pulled over for a DUI charge. Pennsylvania has gotten increasingly strict with people charged with multiple DUIs. In this case, “multiple DUIs” means more than one DUI or DWI charge within 10 years.

Here’s where Pennsylvania law gets tricky. The state’s 10-year “look back” period for DUI charges determines whether a second DUI charge is treated as a second offense or considered a first offense for sentencing purposes. Keep reading for more from our skilled Pennsylvania DUI attorney who handles first, second, and third-time DUIs.

pennsylvania 10 year look back dui

The definition and purpose of Pennsylvania’s 10-year look back DUI sentencing

Essentially a DUI “lookback” period is the period a judge or prosecutor will look back at your criminal record when charging you for a DUI-related offense or setting your penalty. Pennsylvania statute 75 Pa.C.S. Section 3803 covers the enhanced penalties for second and subsequent DUI convictions within 10 years, whereas Section 3806 defines what constitutes a “prior offense.”

Under these laws, someone with a conviction for a second, third, or fourth DUI within 10 years of the first one has stiffer penalties, including a harsher mandatory minimum sentencing and eliminating the possibility of participating in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. If you had a second DUI charge more than 10 years after your first, then you may be eligible for the program.

Pennsylvania’s ignition interlock license law

Pennsylvania’s Ignition Interlock Law (Title 75 § 1547) changes may benefit people convicted of a second DUI offense within 10 years. The law was recently changed to allow second DUI offenders, who may not be eligible for the ARD program, to have an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installed on their vehicle.

The ignition interlock device is a breath alcohol detector linked to your car’s ignition. You blow into the device to test your blood alcohol concentration; if the device detects that you’ve been drinking, it won’t let you start the car. The IID program, therefore, allows you to retain or regain your driving privileges after a DUI offense.

First-time offenders with high BAC can be eligible for the IID right away, avoiding a suspension of their unrestricted license. However, second-time DUI offenders are only eligible for an IID after six or nine months (depending on their conviction) of a driver’s license suspension.

DUI offenses and penalties in Pennsylvania

Driver’s license penalties for DUI are based on your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC):

  • BAC under .10: no license suspension for the first offense; 12-month suspension for a second and subsequent offense
  • BAC .10 or higher: 12-month license suspension for the first and second offense; 18-month suspension for two or more offenses

You also face criminal charges for a second DUI offense that are much stiffer than a first-time offense. First-time offenders may receive probation of up to six months and could avoid jail time entirely; second-time offenders face a sentence of five days to six months in jail for DUI.

Implications and consequences of the 10-year look-back period

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court defined the look-back period in the case of Commonwealth v. Mock. It decides that the 10-year period to “look back” started on the date of the conviction for the DUI, not the date the DUI charge occurred.

So, if your first charge was July 1, 2012, but your conviction was on January 1, 2013, your 10-year look-back window is from January 1, 2013 – January 1, 2023. If you got a DUI on December 30, 2022, it’s considered a second offense even though this charge happened more than 10 years after your first charge.

Exceptions and special circumstances

Extenuating circumstances for your case may grant you an exception to the 10-year lookback period, but this is something that a DUI defense attorney considers on a case-by-case basis.

For example, perhaps your DUI charge happened in early 2020, but your case was delayed longer than it should have been because of Covid restrictions. Your attorney may argue that the length of time between your charge and conviction was unusually long, and therefore your charge should be considered a first-time offense.

Navigating the 10-year look-back period

Whether your second DUI charge is treated as a first offense or a second one has serious implications on your freedom, your ability to drive and go to work or school, and even your wallet – the fines for a second DUI charge are considerably higher than for a first offense.

Arguing for your charge to be treated as a first offense can be tricky; you may need to prove extenuating circumstances for a judge to consider it. Your chances of accomplishing this are better when you work with an experienced DUI defense attorney who understands the nuances of the look-back period and DUI statutes.

Were you charged with DUI in Pennsylvania? We can help.

We can help! The Law Offices of Steven E. Kellis is a legal team of skilled DUI defense professionals. Our Pennsylvania DUI accident lawyers work with even the most challenging DUI cases to help secure a positive outcome for your case. Contact us today at (215) 977-4183 for a free case consultation.

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