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DUI Defendants Are Different

Posted by attorney Forest Morgan

DUI cases dominate the courts’ attention in this and other counties. In 2011, nearly 35% of all cases filed in Pennsylvania were for DUI. In some counties, there is a much higher percentage.

Ninety-five percent (95%) of the clients I represent are charged with DUI. DUI Defendants do not consider themselves to be criminals. In many ways, this self-analysis is correct. The majority of my clients work full-time. My client list includes doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. Many of my clients have no criminal history other than DUI.

A DUI Defendant is subject to harsh punishment in comparison to other offenses. For example, a DUI Defendant with a BAC above .16% faces a mandatory 90 day period of incarceration even with a Prior Record Score (PRS) of 0.

Criminal charges that would result in a 90 day period of incarceration with a PRS of 0 include: Homicide by Vehicle, Burglary of a Business, Felony Theft (>$25,000), Arson, or PWID Cocaine. It is also important to remember that DUI Defendants, unlike other defendants, face the immediate penalty of a loss of license. Although controlled substance crimes result in a license suspension, the defendants do not immediately feel that effect. For most of society, a driver’s license is an absolute necessity. As such, it is imperative the defendant accept the loss of license.

In my career, I have found that DUI Defendants, similar to those experiencing grief, experience a series of emotional "stages": denial; anger; bargaining; depression; and, acceptance. As a result, I have found that my focus during representation must be split between defense and counseling.

The preliminary hearing represents the transition between the anger, bargaining, and depression stages. However, in determining an appropriate sentence, the Court should consider the general principle that the sentence imposed should call for confinement that is consistent with the rehabilitative needs of the defendant. It is well-settled that not every defendant requires incarceration. Nor does every crime require punishment in lieu of rehabilitation. Thus, it is imperative that any sentence address the needs of the individual defendant, not merely compliance with a policy.

As discussed above, a DUI Defendant is different. The prevalence of alcohol in our society, coupled with the necessity of driving equate to the unfortunate reality that many “good" people will make mistakes resulting in an arrest. The Legislature has determined that DUI offenses shall be punished harshly.

My point today is this: It takes time for a DUI Defendant to accept his fate. Thus, we must allow him/her the opportunity to reach that level of acceptance.

Fortunately, the courts have adopted a number of alternative sentening programs for DUI Defendants.

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