The Keystone State was once known for its lax laws involving drinking and driving. This is no longer the case. Thanks to Senate Bill 961, the state has taken a more aggressive approach to punish offenders. The bill, which went into effect on December, 23 of 2018, after passing both branches legislature and being signed by the governor, focuses on a few specific areas involving dangerous behavior behind the wheel.
Repeat DUI offenders targeted
Pennsylvania used to be one of the few states where DUI was never treated as a felony. This has now changed:
- The second and third DUIs can be charged as felonies with more severe penalties, particularly if the blood alcohol content (BAC) is .16 or higher.
- The new law makes a fourth DUI within ten years to be a felony (regardless of BAC) of the third degree, which is punishable by three-and-a-half to seven years in prison.
Vehicular homicide while DUI
According to the new law, intoxicated drivers with previous convictions who cause a fatal accident would face a minimum of five years per death from the accident. The sentence goes to seven years if there is more than one prior DUI.
Increased penalties for driving on a suspended license
Those caught driving on a license suspended because of a DUI will also face stiffer penalties. The initial penalty is $500 and up to 90 days in prison. A second offense will now be $1,000 and no less than 90 days in prison. The third offense is $2,500 and up to six months in prison.
Legal help more important than ever
The stakes of these penalties were always serious, but they become even more so with these new laws that involve life-changing penalties. While these changes no doubt make politicians seem in touch with important safety issues, it has already been established that greater penalties are not always a greater deterrent. Moreover, many of these otherwise law-abiding defendants need sentencing for counseling or treatment instead of stricter penalties. An experienced DUI defense attorney can work with clients to protect their rights and ensure that the penalty fits the crime.