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New Pennsylvania Law Closes Alleged Loophole that Encouraged Drunk Drivers to Flee the Scene of Certain Accidents

By Kirkpatrick at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA new law passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed by the Governor closes a loophole in Pennsylvania law, according to the bill’s supporters, that encouraged people who were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) to flee the scene of an accident in certain situations. Supporters of the bill argued that drunk drivers had an incentive to flee the scene in order to avoid a DUI charge. The new law, which will take effect on or about August 29, 2014, increases the minimum penalty for fleeing the scene of a fatal automobile accident, thereby removing any incentive to flee and closing the loophole.

Pennsylvania law requires any person involved in an accident that causes injury or death to stop immediately and remain at the scene of the accident. The driver must provide his or her name, address, and vehicle registration number to any other driver involved in the accident. Upon request, the driver must show his or her driver’s license and proof of insurance. Under current law, the penalty for failing to stop after an accident, commonly known as “fleeing the scene,” which has resulted in a person’s death is a minimum sentence of one year in prison and a minimum fine of $2,500. Minimum sentences and fines for DUI convictions are often much lower than this.

The new law, SB 1312, was dubbed “Kevin’s Law” by its supporters, after a child who was struck and killed in a hit and run accident in December 2012. Police and prosecutors reportedly suspected that the driver was drunk, but lacked the evidence to prove it. The driver pleaded guilty to fleeing the scene of an accident, and a court sentenced him to two to five years in prison. He could have faced a longer sentence, SB 1312 supporters maintained, had prosecutors been able to charge him with DUI.

The different levels of DUI offenses in Pennsylvania vary based on a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) within two hours of operating a vehicle. In the case of an accident involving DUI, prosecutors must prove that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol within two hours of the accident. BAC evidence is generally considered the most straightforward way to prove that a driver was under the influence, but testimony from an arresting officer regarding a driver’s appearance, behavior, and performance on field sobriety tests may also satisfy prosecutors’ burden of proof.

If a driver flees the scene of an accident, however, neither form of evidence is likely to be available. No officers can testify regarding the driver’s demeanor, and it is unlikely that police could find the driver and obtain a warrant for chemical testing within two hours of the accident. Supporters of SB 1312 called this the “DUI loophole.” The new law closes the loophole by increasing the minimum prison sentence from one year to three years for fleeing the scene of an accident involving the death of a person. This penalty is harsher than most of the possible penalties for DUI, removing any alleged incentive for a driver to flee the scene in order to avoid a DUI charge.

If you have been arrested or charged with DUI, you need the help of a knowledgeable and experienced DUI attorney to help you understand your rights and plan the best possible defense. Zachary B. Cooper has dedicated his law practice exclusively to DUI defense. We are available to help you 24/7. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us online or at (215) 542-0800.

More Blog Posts:

Bicyclists Must Submit to Breath or Blood Testing under Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law, Commonwealth Court Holds, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, July 1, 2014

Field Sobriety and Breath Test Results Challenged in Appeal by Pennsylvania DUI Defendant, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, June 12, 2014

DUI Defendant Asks Pennsylvania Superior Court to Vacate Conviction Because of Clerical Error by Prosecutors, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, June 1, 2014

Photo credit: By Kirkpatrick at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.