What Is a Sentence Enhancement?

Getting a DUI charge in Pennsylvania can cause more havoc and stress in your life than the typical traffic violation. From license revocations and suspensions to fines and community service, a DUI costs you time, money, and your freedom to drive legally. 

Uncertainty around DUI charges can stem from the different penalties that are assigned based on certain factors. These include your blood alcohol concentration, other driving infractions committed while under the influence, and whether or not you have a history with driving under the influence.

Sentence Enhancements Increase Penalties

In some cases, a DUI charge can be boosted with a sentence enhancement, also known as an “aggravating factor.” These increase the recommended sentencing range based on a variety of factors deemed to be relevant by a court. 

Enhancements can result in two outcomes. The first is an increase in the gravity of a sentence, which increases the seriousness of the offense in the eyes of a court. The second is an increase in the minimum and maximum time over which the sentence is applied. 

Obviously, if you’re facing a DUI charge, either of these outcomes could seriously hurt your ability to get back on your feet.

If you have questions about your DUI case, including whether or not a sentence enhancement or aggravating factor could impact you, don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney near you. Call the Law Offices of Steven E. Kellis at (215) 977-4183 or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.

What Prompts a Sentence Enhancement

Sentence enhancements after a DUI are applied in special circumstances such as the following:

Prior Convictions

The amount of applicable penalties increases with the number of past convictions. In any PA DUI case, your first DUI will generally be an ungraded misdemeanor. After your first DUI, the chance that the misdemeanor is graded becomes more likely.

Blood Alcohol Levels

PA has sentencing labels that apply to DUI cases where a defendant’s BAC registered at .10% or above. “High BAC” or “Highest BAC” cases are far more likely to result in fines of thousands of dollars, along with a more significant license suspension and longer and more likely prison sentences. 


A DUI charge involving an injury in which someone was seriously injured or killed might be enhanced to stick the defendant with harsher punishments or fines.

Minor in the Vehicle

If a child under the age of 14 is in the vehicle while the driver is arrested for driving under the influence, consequences can be expanded for endangerment.

Driving a Commercial Vehicle

In some circumstances, getting arrested for a DUI while operating a commercial vehicle can increase the penalties faced by the driver.

Refusing a Chemical Test

Sometimes, refusing a breathalyzer or other chemical test administered by the police can result in increased penalties.

Harsher Penalties for Enhanced Charges

Pennsylvania operates under a tiered impairment system based on BAC and prior DUI offenses. The simplest sentence is applied in the case of a BAC between .08 and .099% and no prior DUI offenses on the record. This results in a misdemeanor with potential probation, a fine, highway safety school, and alcohol abuse treatment when deemed necessary by the court. 

The biggest sentence for a DUI involving a BAC of .16% or higher and a history of two or more DUI offenses results in 1st-degree misdemeanor charges, an 18-month license suspension, 1-5 years in prison, a large fine, and one year of an ignition interlock. 

DUI cases vary significantly, even when unique aggravating factors aren’t taken into consideration. When enhancements get applied to a DUI case, they can significantly change the defendant’s outcome for the worse. A DUI lawyer’s job in cases where enhancements have been applied is to methodically prove that the enhancements should not be applied. 

An experienced PA DUI attorney can get charges reduced or dropped in some cases. In others, they have to work with the prosecution to fight against enhancements and advocate for leniency.

Fight Against Sentence Enhancements and Aggravating Factors

Without an experienced DUI attorney at your side, you’ll be facing prosecutors that aim to maximize the number of charges whenever possible. Charges are frequently brought against drivers when they haven’t had a drink in hours, as police need only to suspect a person of being “less safe” to drive, especially in circumstances where there was an injury or a minor in the vehicle.

Steven E. Kellis has been fighting for the rights of Pennsylvania drivers for 25 years. After being arrested for a DUI, it can feel like the best thing to do is accept whatever the state throws at you. However, you stand a much better chance at receiving fair sentencing when you’ve got a seasoned DUI lawyer that knows the system. 

Talk to us today to learn about your rights and legal options. For a free, no-obligation consultation, call (215) 940-1200 or contact us online 24/7.