In most areas of the country, there are two forms of drunk driving charges. One is the General Impairment driving while impaired (DUI) charge, which typically encompasses anything from .02 to .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) — sometimes higher. The second type of charge is frequently referred to as an “Aggravated DUI,” the conditions of which vary per state. Some states have automatic aggravating factors, such as a high BAC or the presence of a child in the car, or an accident involving injuries.
The presence of one or more of these factors will increase the severity of your sentence, likely add multiple charges to your prosecution case, can hamper your ability to seek leniency, and impact future opportunities.
In Pennsylvania, there are actually three levels of DUI, two of which could be considered to have aggravating factors. These are, in order of severity:
- “General impairment” (Undetermined BAC, or .08 to .099 BAC)
- “High BAC” (.10 to .159 BAC)
- “Highest BAC” (.16 and higher), or a Controlled Substance DUI
Understanding a DUI charge and its potential consequences is never easy, and in Pennsylvania it can be more difficult than in other states. Our aggravated DUI charging system involves a 10-year lookback period for prior related convictions as well as a number of factors that can automatically increase your level of charge.
Fighting DUI charges at any level is in your best interest. A single aggravated DUI charge can lead to jail time, a permanent criminal record, the loss of a commercial driver’s license (CDL), increased insurance costs, and difficulty applying for certain jobs.
If you were arrested for drunk driving, call to schedule an initial consultation with a Pennsylvania DUI lawyer. Steven E. Kellis can provide you with a free case evaluation to help you determine what legal strategies you might use to contest your charges. At the very least we can seek to reduce the severity of your charges and sentencing. Call (267) 314-6693 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.
Understanding aggravating factors in a DUI charge
There are several factors which can aggravate, or increase, a DUI charge in Pennsylvania. The prosecution may decide to include a number of these factors in the charges, thereby increasing the severity of your potential consequences.
Aggravating factors include:
- Blood alcohol concentration (BAC): If a BAC level is .10 percent or higher, the DUI offense can be charged as a High BAC or Highest BAC if the level is .16 percent BAC or higher. A DUI defense attorney may seek to challenge the chemical test or the traffic stop to challenge the BAC results.
- Second or subsequent conviction: A previous DUI conviction will increase the potential consequences. For example, a General Impairment DUI first offense could result in x time in jail whereas a General Impairment DUI third offence could result in x jail time. A DUI defense attorney could seek to have an earlier DUI downgraded, dismissed or expunged.
- Accident with injuries: If the DUI is associated with an accident involving serious injuries, the charges can be enhanced.
- Young person in the vehicle: If a person who is 14-years-old or younger is in the car at the time of the DUI arrest, the potential consequences can be increased.
Although “Aggravated DUI” is not a specific charge in Pennsylvania, there are aggravating factors which can lead to enhanced drunk driving charges. When any of these aggravating factors are present, you must seek the assistance of an experienced DUI attorney.
The task for a DUI defense attorney is to take away these aggravating factors one at a time, until there are few – if any – remaining. Sometimes, by contesting the reason for the stop or the arrest, an experienced DUI attorney in Pennsylvania can get all charges dropped. Other times, they must plead with the prosecution for leniency or demonstrate why aggravated charges are inappropriate compared to lesser charges.
A local Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer can also arrange a favorable plea bargain with the prosecution, limiting the consequences of a conviction while helping you avoid aggravated charges that can complicate your future.
How aggravated charges affect Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)
Pennsylvania offers a program called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), which is available under certain conditions. The advantage of the ARD program is that a conviction can be expunged if a person went through ARD. It is very difficult to have a conviction expunged without completion of ARD.
A person is eligible for ARD if:
- It is the first offense within 10 years
- There were no deaths or serious injuries, other than to the alleged offender (defendant)
- There were no passengers under the age of 18 in the accused’s car at the time of the offense
As you can see, aggravating factors can make you ineligible for ARD. This risk is why it is important to seek out the services of a knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer, even if you intend to enter ARD as part of your defense strategy. Your attorney can help reduce your charges or remove certain aggravating factors from the prosecution’s case, thus making you eligible for ARD when you otherwise wouldn’t be.
Frequently asked questions about aggravated DUI charges in Pennsylvania
What happens if I have several aggravating factors at once? How might that affect my prosecution/sentencing?
The prosecutor assigned to your case will usually seek a grand jury indictment for every single count. This means that every factor can add a “sentencing enhancement,” and they may be accompanied by additional charges like endangering the welfare of a child.
Once your case reaches court, your attorney will encourage the prosecution or assigned judge to consolidate your charges and leave out any aggravating factors for which there is scant evidence. Your attorney will then try to beat each individual charge by pointing to mistakes in the police report, citing past appeals rulings where charges didn’t “stick” because of constitutional rights, or by agreeing to a favorable plea arrangement for the defendant.
I don’t think the person I was involved in a wreck with was actually injured. Why am I being charged with aggravated DUI?
To prove that an individual has an injury, the prosecution will need a diagnosis from a medical doctor. Without this diagnosis, it may be likely that the prosecution will feel like they cannot legitimately pursue this charge. Still, in some cases, a “complaint of pain” in an exam is considered enough evidence to prove an injury. Therefore, having a defense attorney is important to ensure that evidence is held to a high standard to justify all charges.
I didn’t even cause the crash! Why am I being charged with aggravated DUI?
Unfortunately, the law does not state that you have to be at-fault to be charged with aggravated DUI when an injury or major property damage occurs. Regardless, the question of causation might be used by the defense attorney to leverage a lesser charge or a favorable plea option. Sometimes, the evidence regarding the accident itself may even be removed from the case, automatically lessening the severity of the DUI charge.
I hadn’t been drinking for hours before I was charged with DUI involving a minor occupant, what can I do?
According to § 3802 and § 3803, you only have to be suspected of having drunk alcohol and being “less safe” to drive in order to be charged with a DUI while having a minor in your vehicle. Your defense attorney will have to look to factors that weaken the prosecution’s case to help you reduce or avoid these charges. Perhaps there is no physical proof you were impaired? Perhaps the traffic stop or arrest was not justified? Having a child in your vehicle at the time of your arrest can be an awful experience, but what’s important is thinking about what can happen next in terms of your possible case outcomes.
I went through ARD and then got another DUI charge, will I be prosecuted as a repeat offender?
Yes. Part of the terms of ARD are that you must not receive additional convictions within the stated probationary period, which varies from county to county. Once additional charges are brought within 10 years of the ARD participation, there is the strong possibility that the prosecution will treat the charges that led to ARD participation as a technical conviction, allowing them to list it as a “prior offense,” in many cases.
This risk is why it is important to not automatically assume ARD is the best course. It is so important to work with a Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer, especially if this isn’t your first charge in the past 10 years.
Worried about aggravated DUI penalties? Take the first step
If you have been charged with a High BAC DUI or a Highest BAC DUI, you are facing serious consequences.
For example, a Highest BAC level DUI (.16 percent BAC or higher) that is a first offense within 10 years can result in:
- A fine of $1,000-$5,000
- A full drug and alcohol assessment with treatment if ordered
- Alcohol Highway Safety School
- Driver’s license suspension of 12 months
- Jail time of 72 hours to six months
- Ungraded misdemeanor charges
If you are facing a DUI with aggravating factors, it may be important that your first step is to consult with and obtain an experienced DUI lawyer. Speaking with an attorney informs you of your rights as well as the strategies that have successfully helped defendants avoid a slew of consequences in the past.
Contact us to meet with a Pennsylvania attorney who can mount a vigorous DUI defense on your behalf. Call (267) 314-6693 or contact us online to schedule your free, no-obligation case review now.