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Pennsylvania Court Finds Multiple Convictions for One DUI Incident Violates Double Jeopardy

It is common knowledge that a criminal defendant cannot be convicted more than once for the same crime. Thus, if a criminal defendant is convicted for multiple crimes arising out of the same act it may constitute double jeopardy in violation of the State and Federal Constitutions. Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania analyzed the issue of whether a sentence for multiple DUI convictions for the same instance of driving while intoxicated violated the defendant’s rights. If you live in Pennsylvania and are charged with a DUI it is crucial to engage an assertive Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney to assist you in protecting your rights.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with numerous crimes, including three counts of driving under the influence – general impairment. He pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced, in part, to six months of probation for the DUI charges. The defendant appealed, arguing that his sentence was illegal due to the fact that he was sentenced for three DUI convictions for one drunk driving incident, in contravention of Pennsylvania law.

Fifth Amendment Right Against Double Jeopardy

On appeal, the defendant argued that his three DUI convictions were almost identical, in that each charge alleged that he drove a vehicle after consuming a sufficient amount of alcohol to render him incapable of driving, operating, or controlling the vehicle safely. As such, he argued that his sentences for two of the convictions must be vacated because they violated the State and Federal Constitutions on double jeopardy grounds. Specifically, the defendant argued that his sentence must be vacated because he could not be subjected to multiple punishments for the same incident of driving under the influence.

The Pennsylvania courts have explained that the Double Jeopardy Clause protects people against multiple punishments for a singular offense, a second prosecution for an offense after an acquittal, and a prosecution for an offense for which the defendant has already been convicted. Generally, in assessing whether the Double Jeopardy Clause has been violated a court will conduct a same-elements test. In other words, it will assess whether each offense for which the defendant has been convicted contains elements not contained in the other offenses. If they do not, they are the same offense and double jeopardy prohibits additional punishment or prosecution.

Further, the court stated that a defendant cannot be sentenced for multiple violations of the same provision, explaining that when multiple crimes arise from one act, a defendant can only be sentenced on the highest graded offense. Thus, in the subject case, the court found the defendant was improperly convicted three times for one criminal act. As such, the court vacated two of the defendant’s DUI convictions.

Consult an Experienced DUI Defense Attorney to Discuss Your Case

If you are a Pennsylvania resident currently charged with a DUI, it is important to consult an experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney to discuss your case and what defenses you may be able to argue to avoid a conviction. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper is an adept attorney who will work diligently to help you seek a favorable result under your unique circumstances. You can contact Mr. Cooper via the form online or at (215) 542-0800 to set up a free and confidential meeting to discuss your case.