All violations of law can be classified as infractions, misdemeanors or felonies. Minor offenses, such as being ticketed for a broken tail light, are considered infractions and usually only require that you pay a small fine. But some traffic violations are considered misdemeanors or even felonies, depending on the severity of the offense.
For example, a traffic violation that causes damage to either another person or their property may escalate from an infraction to a misdemeanor, or even to a felony. Some common types of felony traffic incidents include:
- Hit-and-run offenses
- Vehicular homicide
- Repeat DUI offenders
Factors affecting a DUI charge in Pennsylvania
The way a DUI is charged in Pennsylvania depends on several factors, including:
- Your level of intoxication, known as blood alcohol content (BAC)
- Whether you are a repeat offender
- Whether you were involved in a crash resulting in property damages, bodily injury, or death
- Whether you were under the influence of other drugs
Level of impairment
The first step to determining the penalties associated with your DUI charge depends on your level of impairment. In Pennsylvania, there are three general categories of impairment for drivers over the age of 21:
- General impairment — .08-.099 BAC
- High rate — .10-.159 BAC (.02 BAC for minors, .04 BAC for commercial vehicle drivers, and .02 BAC for school bus drivers, or drivers who fall into category 1 who are involved in a crash causing serious bodily injury, death, or property damage
- Highest rate — .16 BAC or higher
As your BAC increases, the penalties for DUI become more severe. For example, only third offenses are charged as felonies for drivers falling into categories 1 and 2 above, but drivers in the Highest Rate table may be convicted of felony DUI on their second offense.
First-time offenders that fall into the high and highest rate of impairment categories qualify for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. Offenders who participate in this program will:
- Lose their license for up to 90 days
- Remain under court supervision for 6 months
- Pay between $300-$5,000 in fines
- Submit to drug and alcohol evaluation
- Receive drug and alcohol treatment, if necessary
- Participate in 12.5 hours of alcohol highway safety school.
Number of offenses
The number of DUI convictions you have in the past is one of the main factors that determine whether your DUI will be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. In Pennsylvania, there is a 10-year “look back” period, which means that the court, when considering how to try your case, will look to see if you have any DUI convictions within the last 10 years.
Regardless of level of intoxication, a third DUI will be charged as a felony. Felony DUI convictions carry much more severe penalties than misdemeanors, including:
- 10 days to 5 years mandatory imprisonment
- Fines ranging from $500 to over $10,000
- Additional court costs and legal fees
- A minimum 12-month driver’s license suspension
Additionally, you may be required to participate in drug and alcohol education courses, fulfill community service requirements, install an interlock ignition device in your vehicle, and submit to ongoing supervision of the court.
Bodily injury, death, or property damage
Involvement in a car accident that resulted in bodily injury, death, or property damages while driving under the influence can also affect whether your DUI will be charged as a misdemeanor or felony.
Even if your blood alcohol content was between .08 and .099, the fact that you were involved in an accident automatically subjects you to the same penalties as High Rate offenders. If it is your first offense, this means that you will:
- Spend a minimum of two days in jail
- Pay higher fines
- Face a 12-month driver’s license suspension
If you or someone you know has been charged with DUI, contact The Law Offices of Steven E. Kellis to schedule a free consultation today.