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Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Clarifies Law Regarding What Constitutes a Second DUI Offense

Under Pennsylvania DUI law, if you are convicted of a second DUI offense within a certain time period, you will likely face greater penalties than if you had no prior DUI convictions. Recent changes in section 3806(b), the provision of the code that determines what constitutes a second offense, modified how time is to be calculated between offenses. In Becker v. Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that it is clear the new provision was to be applied retroactively in DUI offenses committed after the amendment of the provision.

In Becker, defendant was charged with a DUI in December 2010 and convicted in October 2012. The provision of the code he was convicted of violating, section 3802(a)(1), prohibits an individual from driving after consuming alcohol to the point where he or she is incapable of driving safely. Defendant’s sentencing included a one-year suspension of his license, which he did not appeal. His license was suspended from December 11, 2012 until December 17, 2013. Defendant was charged with a second DUI for a violation of section 3802(a)(1) on November 6, 2011. He was convicted of his second DUI in August 2015 and his license was suspended under section 3806(b), which was amended in October 2014 to provide that any conviction within ten years of sentencing on a prior conviction constitutes a second offense. Defendant appealed his license suspension, arguing the prior version of section 3806(b), which stated a conviction within ten years of a prior violation constituted a second offense, should apply, as it was the provision in effect during both DUI violations. As defendant’s second violation occurred prior to his conviction for his first offense, he argued it did not constitute a second offense. The trial court denied defendant’s appeal, stating the new section 3806(b) applied. As defendant’s second conviction was after the date of the amendment of section 3806(b), the court found it the new section 3806(b) applied. Defendant then appealed to the Commonwealth court.

The issue on appeal was whether defendant fell within the exception to suspension, which provides that a defendant will not face a license suspension where they are convicted of an ungraded misdemeanor and have no prior offense. To fall under the exception, the defendant must be convicted of violating section 3802(a)(1), must be subject to penalties as set forth in section 3804(a), and must have no prior offenses. While the parties agreed defendant met the first two elements, they did not agree as to whether he had a prior offense. Defendant argued the trial court erred in retroactively applying the new section 3806(b) rather than applying the old section. The court disagreed, noting that new section 3806(b) clearly stated it applied to anyone sentenced after December 26, 2014. As defendant was not sentenced until August 2015, the new section 3806(b) was applicable.

Defendant also argued that application of the new section 3806(b) violated the ex post facto provision of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitution because it enhanced the punishment he received for a prior conviction. The court rejected this argument as well, noting that Pennsylvania law is clear that suspension of a license is a civil penalty and not a criminal penalty. As such, the court affirmed the ruling of the trial court.

If you were charged with a second DUI, what penalties you face if you are convicted depends on multiple factors. It is in your best interest to consult with an attorney skilled in defending DUI cases to assess the charges against you. Zachary B. Cooper is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can assist you in the defense against your DUI charges. Contact him at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Upholds Defendant’s Resentencing Following New DUI Conviction Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, May 9, 2017

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Lower Court Was Not Required to Impose Mandatory Maximum Sentence on DUI Defendant Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, December 6, 2016

Penalties for first DUI Arrest. Am I going to Jail? Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, April 4, 2016