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Court Explains What Constitutes a Prior DUI Offense Under Pennsylvania Law

DUI convictions can result in substantial fines, jail time, and other penalties. Generally, the penalties increase with each DUI crime a person is convicted of committing. While the process of determining if a person has prior DUI offenses is typically straightforward, in some cases, a defendant may dispute whether a charge constitutes a second offense. For example, in a recent Pennsylvania case, a defendant argued that adjudication of DUI as a juvenile did not count as a prior offense for purposes of sentencing but failed to persuade the court. If you are charged with a DUI offense, it is smart to meet with a Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer to discuss your potential penalties.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was arrested and charged with DUI – Controlled Substance, Impaired Ability. She entered a guilty plea pursuant to the advice of her attorney and was offered Accelerated Rehabilitated Disposition (ARD) as a first-time offender. The Commonwealth then amended the information to charge her as a second-time offender due to an adjudication of delinquency in 2011, rendering her ineligible for ARD. She was sentenced as a second offender, and her sentence included a term of probation.

Allegedly, the defendant subsequently violated the conditions of her probation, and the Commonwealth moved for a revocation hearing. She then filed a motion to determine the legality of her sentence, arguing that it was unlawful because her 2011 adjudication did not constitute a prior offense under Pennsylvania law.  

Prior DUI Offenses Under Pennsylvania Law

On appeal, the court looked to the interpretation of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, in particular, the intent of the legislature regarding the use of the term prior offense in its sentencing scheme The court explained that any fact used to increase a defendant’s sentence but is not part of a charged offense must be submitted to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Prior convictions are an exception to this rule, however, and do not need to be submitted to a jury.

The court elaborated that case law clearly established that prior acceptance to ARD did not constitute conviction of a prior offense as it did not require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant argued that the same reasoning should be applied in cases involving a prior adjudication of delinquency, as they do not require a public jury trial. The court was not persuaded by the defendant’s argument and explained that the prosecution bears the same burden in a delinquency hearing as in a criminal trial. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s sentence.

Speak to a Skilled Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

DUI offenses can harm a person’s rights and reputation, and it is critical for anyone charged with a second or third offense to set forth a compelling defense. If you are charged with a DUI crime, it is advisable to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.  Zachary B. Cooper is a skilled Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help you to seek the best outcome available under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Cooper via the online form or at (215) 542-0800 to set up a conference.