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The Basics of Pennsylvania DUI DWI Law

Pennsylvania DUI law, also known as DWI law, is more straightforward than many other state DUI laws. Still, for those not familiar with DUI laws across the country, it can be somewhat confusing. Most Pennsylvania drunk driver infractions count as misdemeanors if the driver did not cause anyone serious injury.

If you have been arrested for drinking and driving in Pennsylvania, you will want to consult with a Pennsylvania DUI attorney. A lawyer can help you understand your rights under the law and customize a defense strategy to attempt to get your charges dropped, to have your penalties reduced, or to win a not-guilty verdict at trial.

Pennsylvania DUI Law Offense Categories

Pennsylvania DUI law has three tiers of DUI offenses.

The first tier is reserved for those whose blood-alcohol levels were either undetermined at the time of arrest or whose levels were .08 percent to .099 percent. This category also includes drivers whose blood-alcohol levels might not be over the legal limit but whose driving has been impaired by alcohol. Drunk drivers who fit into this tier face the least extreme penalties.

The second tier of Pennsylvania DWI offenses is for those whose blood-alcohol levels are less than twice the legal limit. Specifically, these offenders' blood-alcohol levels are .10 percent to .159 percent.

The final tier under Pennsylvania DUI law is for those whose blood-alcohol levels are at least twice the legal limit. This means those with BAC of .16 percent and higher will face harsher penalties. This tier is also includes those who are caught driving while under the influence of a controlled substance.

Traffic Stops under Pennsylvania DUI Law

A police officer need only have a suspicion that you are driving under the influence to stop you. Suspicious actions include:

  • Committing a traffic violation such as speeding or crashing a red light
  • Weaving from side to side
  • Driving excessively slowly
  • Hesitating at a green light

Once the officer pulls over your vehicle, he or she may try to determine whether you are intoxicated by observing your behavior and actions. This may include:

  • Smelling your breath for alcohol
  • Observing your eyes for signs of inebriation
  • Listening to your speech to see if it is slurred

The officer may then administer field sobriety tests. These are mental and physical challenges that are recommended for use by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The typical battery of field sobriety tests includes:

  • Walking in a straight line, turning, and then repeating
  • Balancing on one leg with your arms to your side
  • Following a moving object or light with your eyes while keeping your head stationary

Finally, the officer may ask you to take a breath test. A device called a breathalyzer can be used to estimate your blood-alcohol content based on your breath.

Refusing the Breathalyzer Test

Pennsylvania DUI law states that drivers implicitly consent to breath and chemical testing when a police officer suspects them of drinking and driving. These are known as implied consent laws.

Refusing to submit to a breath or chemical test to determine your blood-alcohol level may result in harsher penalties than a DUI. For instance, the first time you refuse a breathalyzer test your driver's license may be suspended for one year and you will automatically be considered guilty of drinking and driving. Subsequent refusals may result in even harsher penalties.

Pennsylvania DUI Expungement

Pennsylvania DUI law does allow for expungements. Expungement is a legal process whereby your criminal records are either destroyed or sealed. Expungement allows you to withhold information about your criminal history from employers, school, government agencies, and other organizations.

If five years have passed since you finished probation for your DWI, your DWI record may be eligible for DUI expungement. The rules around Pennsylvania expungement are fairly complex, so it is best to consult with a Pennsylvania DUI lawyer if you are interested in sealing your criminal record.