You’ve been pulled over for a DUI and spent the night in jail. This is the first time you’ve been arrested and are imagining the worst. How long will my license be taken away? Will I lose my job? These are realistic concerns. Severe penalties are associated with DUI, not to mention the stigma.
While DUI charges often involve repeat offenders, the reality is that many DUIs are given to drivers who made a single mistake that many of us are capable of. However, driving over the legal limit always means that you’re not able to drive safely. If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence in Chester County, you may rightly fear the consequences that a conviction will bring to your life and career.
Your first step should be contacting an experienced DUI lawyer in Chester County who can offer a comprehensive plan to fight the charge. Steven Kellis is a former prosecutor for the state who has focused his Chester County law practice on DUI defense for the past 25 years. Attorney Steven Kellis understands both sides of Pennsylvania DUI law and will use aggressive tactics to get the best possible outcome for your case.
Find out what you can do to fight your DUI charge and seek the best possible outcome during a free, no obligation case review with Steven Kellis. Call 215-940-1200 or contact us online to schedule your free appointment now.
DUI Penalties You May Face
Pennsylvania has a number of possible DUI penalties depending on the level of blood alcohol content (BAC) you have been tested for, how many prior DUI convictions you have on your record, and other circumstances.
Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes §3804 lists the following penalties for a DUI conviction with a 0.08 – 0.099 BAC:
- 1st Offense: Misdemeanor, $300 fine, up to 6 months probation, highway safety school, possible treatment
- 2nd Offense: Misdemeanor, $300 – $2,500 fine, 5 days to 6 months jail sentence, highway safety school, possible treatment, 1 year ignition interlock
- 3rd Offense or Greater: $500 – $5,000 fine, 10 days to 2 years in state prison, possible treatment, 1 year ignition interlock
Higher BAC levels correspond with more strict sentencing guidelines. The categories of aggravated DUI include High BAC penalties for measured levels 0.10 to 0.159 and Highest BAC penalties for measured levels 0.16 and higher.
Your first conviction for a DUI of Highest BAC level, for example, can bring at minimum a $1,000 fine and up to six months in prison.
Some DUI penalties are harder to quantify. Regardless of the level of your sentencing, they can have huge consequences for your future. You may lose your license, your job, or access to certain federally funded programs. The hidden consequences of a DUI are why many people choose to appoint an experienced DUI attorney to help them reduce their charges or ask for more lenient sentencing.
What Do You Do If You’ve Been Drinking and Have Been Pulled Over?
First of all, never put yourself and others at risk by drinking and driving. Your risk of a dangerous accident increases exponentially when you are under the influence.
With that said, you have legal rights during a traffic stop that most people do not know about. Unfortunately, police officers encourage self-incrimination in situations where an individual should assert their legal rights to remain silent and obtain an attorney.
Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that many individuals gravitate toward strategies that they think might help them evade a DUI, but make things worse. Rest assured that there is no way to “beat” the breathalyzer on a chemical level if you have been drinking. In fact, you are much more likely to trigger a false positive than a false negative.
With that said, many technical legal challenges can help you get breathalyzer evidence dropped from your prosecutor’s case.
All of this is to say that you should focus on what happens to your criminal case after you are arrested. Do not think that you will be able to evade arrest through one clever trick or another.
So what do you do when you get pulled over and are suspected of DUI?
- Obey officer instructions for parking your vehicle, turning off the ignition, lowering music, cracking your window so they can hear you, and not making sudden movements.
- You are obligated to declare any dangerous weapons, even if you legally possess them. If you are worried about a criminal charge for possession of a weapon, you are better off refusing to answer questions than telling an outright lie.
- Provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you need to retrieve them from the glove box or somewhere else, inform the officer first.
- If you are asked to step out of the vehicle and place your hands on the roof of the vehicle, you should comply.
- DO NOT consent to a search of your vehicle. Make them get a warrant. Every single time.
- Know that you do not have to consent to a field sobriety test.
- Know that you do not need to answer any specific questions the officer asks you. This includes where you are going, where you’re coming from, or whether you’ve been drinking.
- If an officer demands that you answer questions, ask if you’re being detained or if you’re free to go. If you are not free to go, say you would prefer to exercise your right to remain silent and have an attorney advise you.
- Don’t lie or attempt to mislead the officer. You are more likely to provide evidence that can be used to establish your guilt than you are to “trick” them into letting you go. Instead, remain silent. Ask for a lawyer.
- Consenting to take the breathalyzer is almost always in your own interest because the penalties for refusal can be severe.
Generally speaking, watch what you say, and try to conduct yourself like someone will be scrutinizing this moment during an eventual prosecution case because it’s likely they will.
Asserting your right to have a Pennsylvania DUI attorney advise you is the best way to prevent self-incrimination and to increase the odds that you will be able to weaken the prosecution’s case.
What Are Cops Looking for When They Pull Over Suspected Drunk Drivers?
Police officers need “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed in order to make a traffic stop. They then need “probable cause” – AKA a “preponderance of evidence” standard – to justify an arrest or a request for a search warrant.
So what kinds of actions allow a police officer to be “reasonably suspicious” that you might be committing a crime?
- Swerving in your lane
- Crossing over the divided lane marker
- Driving recklessly or aggressively
- Following vehicles too closely
- Running stop signs or red lights
- Accelerating too quickly off the line
- Playing music too loudly (noise violation)
- Acting aggressive or obnoxious, such as honking at pedestrians
- Violating any vehicle ordinance, such as not wearing a seatbelt or having a broken taillight
- Delayed reactions, such as not going when a light turns green
Police officers may also be responding to reports from others, including those on the highway, passers-by, people in a neighborhood, or even people who saw you recently leave a drinking establishment.
Note that a report of suspicious or belligerent behavior is just one piece of evidence to give an officer probable cause. They will usually need further evidence of a crime being committed before they can justify an arrest. However, if an individual reports an actual crime, like an assault, then the officer may be able to justify an arrest based on that report alone.
Challenging DUI Evidence Used in Your Case
Although drinking and driving cases may seem no more complicated that a traffic offense, Steven Kellis knows that a DUI has many potential problems. Irregularities and mistakes often occur when police officers make the initial arrest. There must be probable cause for an officer to stop your vehicle. Police officers sometimes make traffic stops that are not completely valid.
Field sobriety and breathalyzer tests are usually administered by police officers when a person is suspected of driving under the influence. Due to the potential for human error, mistakes can be made during these tests, which can lead to the results being unreliable or thrown out altogether. Suppressing evidence, or having evidence ruled inadmissible, can result in your DUI charges being reduced or dismissed when you have an experienced attorney handling your case.
Should I Refuse the Breathalyzer?
You should never refuse a breath test when arrested for a DUI. In Pennsylvania, refusal of either the breathalyzer or a blood test can result in losing your license for an additional year, on top of the normal drinking and driving penalties. Worse, you could forfeit your driving rights for a year even if you’re not guilty of DUI.
A two and a half year suspension can result if you refuse to take the test and you are determined to be DUI, depending on your BAC level. If you refuse testing and have a prior drinking and driving conviction you’ll receive an eighteen-month suspension for refusal plus eighteen additional months for DUI.
Guiding You Through the Legal Process
For many people with a DUI, this is their first criminal charge. Steven Kellis knows the importance of clearly explaining the legal process to clients who’ve come to him for help. If your case is a simple DUI, you may proceed quickly through the court system, which makes it even more important that you get the help of an experienced attorney immediately after your charge. With guidance from Mr. Kellis, you’ll learn about Pennsylvania DUI laws and what to expect when you appear in court, allowing you to make smart decisions about your arrest.
DUI Statistics for Chester County
Chester County has a very high proportion of DUI cases on its Court of Common Pleas docket compared to the state of Pennsylvania as a whole. Statewide, DUIs make up just over 25% of low-level criminal cases. However, in Chester County DUI cases occupied 37.5% of the overall Common Pleas caseload in 2018. Overall, Chester County had 1,684 DUI prosecutions that year.
Chester County as a whole ranks fairly low in its rate of DUI-related fatalities, fortunately. In a list of all 67 Pennsylvania counties ranked by their population-adjusted DUI fatality rates, Chester County fell in at #52. On average, one person died of a DUI-related incident in Chester County for every 8,243 residents.
Plea Options for Your DUI Case
You have many plea options available for your Chester County DUI case. The most important ones to consider include:
- Delaying Your Plea: During your arraignment, you may be given the option to delay your plea until you have time to appoint a Chester County DUI lawyer. You may also be offered ARD or other pre-trial programs.
- Not Guilty: Entering a “not guilty” plea means you intend to defend your case in court. It does not necessarily mean that you can prove that you were sober at the time of your arrest, but rather that you think the prosecution doesn’t have the information needed to convict.
- Guilty: A guilty plea can be optionally entered, but you should always attempt to work out a plea deal of some sort with the prosecution before you do so. You and your Chester County DUI attorney can seek to plea to lesser charges or request leniency in exchange for an expedient trial.
- Nolo Contendere: A “no contest” plea can bring benefits for minor traffic violations, but for criminal cases like DUI, it is essentially the same as entering a guilty plea. Arranging a “guilty” plea bargain or requesting the advice of an attorney may be more beneficial.
Talking with a DUI lawyer in Chester County can help you assess all of your available options and select the one that offers the best chances at a favorable outcome.
The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) acts as a pre-trial diversion. Pennsylvania set up this program to help certain non-violent first offenders avoid prosecution in exchange for their participation in a program. The program may require fees, substance abuse counseling, probationary supervision, and other demands. Upon successful completion of the program, DUI suspects may have all of their charges dropped, and they can request to have the arrest removed (expunged) from their record.
Many people may assume that ARD is their best option, but they may want to carefully consider alternatives. You can only participate in ARD once, for one thing. If you were able to have your charges reduced or dropped, you would be in a better position compared to if you had entered ARD. Always review your available options carefully with an experienced Chester County DUI attorney.
Find Your District Court in Chester County
The district court you will be required to appear at depends upon where you were arrested for a DUI in Chester County. You can find a directory of all magisterial district courts in Chester County on the official Chester County government website.
Cities We Serve in Chester County
Contact Our Chester County Law Firm
When you are facing a DUI in Chester County, enlist the assistance of a law firm that focuses its practice on representing clients charged with drinking and driving.
With more than 25 years of experience in DUI cases, as both a prosecutor for the state and a defense attorney, Steven Kellis has the legal skills necessary to effectively represent you in any type of DUI case. Call 215-940-1200 or contact our office today to schedule a free case evaluation.
Chester County Office
1055 Westlakes Drive, Third Floor