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Court Discusses the Application of Precedent in Pennsylvania DUI Cases

In Pennsylvania, penalties for driving under the influence increase for second and subsequent convictions. While in many cases it is clear whether an offense constitutes a person’s first or second DUI offense, in some, such as in cases involving Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, it is less clear. The confusion over calculating whether a DUI charge is a second or subsequent offense was recently compounded by an intervening change in the law which was followed by a subsequent reversal shortly thereafter, as discussed in a recent ruling issued in a Pennsylvania DUI case. If you are accused of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating substance in violation of Pennsylvania law, it is in your best interest to talk to a Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer about what steps you can take to protect your rights.

Factual and Procedural Background

Allegedly, the Commonwealth charged the defendant with a DUI, which it characterized as his second offense, despite a prior Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition in 2017 for a previous DUI offense. The defendant filed a motion to reduce the grading of his DUI charges to a first offense, citing a previous court decision, Commonwealth v. Chichkin, which declared that Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition acceptance could not be considered a “prior conviction” for DUI sentencing enhancements.

It is reported, however, the trial court stayed the case pending the resolution of subsequent decisions overruling Chichkin. Following the en banc decision in Commonwealth v. Richards, which reversed Chichkin, the defendant’s case proceeded to trial. The jury found the defendant guilty of driving under the influence of controlled substances and related offenses, and the court imposed a judgment of sentence. The defendant appealed.

Application of Precedent in Pennsylvania DUI Cases

On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s arguments, affirming the judgment of sentence. Despite the defendant’s assertions assuming a reversal of Richards by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the court emphasized that it lacked the authority to overrule a prior decision of the court, such as Richards, unless there was intervening authority by the Supreme Court.

Further, as the Supreme Court had only granted an appeal to determine the constitutionality of the relevant statute, the court found that Richards remained binding precedent. Consequently, the court concluded that it could not grant the defendant appellate relief and dismissed all three of his issues as meritless. Therefore, it affirmed the defendant’s the judgment of sentence.

Speak with a Seasoned Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a DUI crime in violation of Pennsylvania law, it is important to understand your rights, and you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper is a seasoned Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer who is well-informed as to what it takes to prevail in DUI cases, and if you hire him, he will gather any evidence in your favor to provide you with a strong chance of a favorable outcome. You can reach him to arrange a confidential and free meeting by filling out the online form or calling (215) 542-0800.