Written by attorney Jason B. Martin

Pennsylvania DUI Handbook: Drunk Driving in PA

Drunk driving, commonly referred to as DUI, is a serious criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Often, those accused of DUI are good people – first-time offenders who find themselves in a bad situation due to a failure to exercise judgment. Many of my clients are scared and overwhelmed by the harshness and unfamiliarity of the criminal justice system that they face upon an arrest for DUI.

I have prepared the following handbook in an effort to provide relevant and practical information to those facing PA DUI charges. In my experience, those who understand the legal processes and procedures underlying their DUI charge experience lesser degrees of anxiety, fear and depression about their situation.

Pennsylvania’s DUI Law

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance (75 Pa.C.S. § 3802)

In Pennsylvania, a person is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances when the individual drives, operates, or is in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that (1) the individual is rendered incapable of safely driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle, or (2) the alcohol concentration (BAC) in the person's blood or breath is at least .08%. A person also may be charged under the Pennsylvania DUI law when the person drives, operates or is in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle if the person has consumed controlled substances. The Pennsylvania DUI law is set forth in the PA Motor Vehicle Code at 75 Pa.C.S. § 3801, et. seq.

Impairment (BAC)

Pennsylvanialaw sets forth three (3) types of impairment that determine the penalties upon conviction for DUI. The three types of impairment are as follows:

  • General impairment: BAC .08 - .099%
  • High: BAC .10 - .159%
  • Highest: BAC .16% and higher

The Importance of Qualified Legal Representation

If you have been charged with DUI in Pennsylvania, it is imperative that you contact an experienced PA DUI lawyer as soon as possible following your arrest. I cannot overstate the importance of retaining competent legal counsel to represent you for a PA DUI charge. Pennsylvania state and county authorities have been trained to take even first-time DUI charges very seriously, and the consequences that can be imposed are severe and long-lasting. The advice and expertise of an experienced PA DUI attorney will be invaluable throughout this legal process.

An experienced DUI attorney will educate you about your rights and discuss possible defense strategies with you. Possible issues to be considered include:

  • Whether you were actually operating the vehicle
  • Legality of your traffic stop
  • Whether there is credible proof of your intoxication
  • Accuracy of blood and/or breath test results
  • Refusal of blood and/or breath tests
  • Out-of-state DUI charges

DUI Penalties

The penalties for conviction under the PA DUI laware set forth under 75 Pa.C.S. § 3804. Penalties including significant fines, court costs, mandatory license suspension, a criminal record, and jail time may apply if you are convicted. Pennsylvania utilizes a tiered structure for DUI penalties based on both your blood alcohol content (BAC) level and the number of your previous offenses. It is extremely important to have an experienced and skilled Pennsylvania DUI lawyer represent you to ensure that you serve the absolute minimum sentence possible under PA law. Learn more about DUI penalties in Pennsylvania.

Driver’s License Suspension

A Pennsylvania DUI conviction has serious consequences, including suspension or revocation of your driving privileges. Possible suspensions are determined as follows under Pennsylvania law:

  • BAC below .10% and incapable of safe driving: no suspension of PA license for first offense if the driver meets certain criteria; 12-month PA license suspension for second or subsequent offense.
  • BAC greater than or equal to .10% and less than .16%: 12-month PA license suspension for first and second offense. 18-month suspension for third or subsequent offense.
  • BAC greater than or equal to .16%: 12-month PA license suspension for first offense. 18-month license suspension for second or subsequent offense.
  • Out-of-state DUI convictions: no license suspension for first offense; 12-month license suspension for second or subsequent offense.

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)

What is ARD?

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, commonly abbreviated as ARD, is a pre-trial intervention program established by the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. ARD is an alternative to a criminal conviction. ARD aims to divert first-time offenders from the criminal justice system. Essentially, the ARD program is intended to encourage first-time offenders to make a fresh start upon successful completion of a rehabilitative program by offering the possibility of expungement of the candidate’s criminal record.


Pennsylvania ARD is generally available for first-time DUI offenders. There are a few exceptions under the law, such as cases involving serious bodily injury. The appropriate Pennsylvania County District Attorney must move before the judge for a case to be considered for ARD.


All Pennsylvania judicial districts have different administrative requirements for processing and disposing of ARD cases. Generally, however, conditions of ARD include full and timely payment of fines and costs, successful completion of probation, fulfillment of community service, completion of a drug and alcohol evaluation conducted by an authorized official, and attendance and completion of mandatory alcohol awareness classes.

A violation of any of the conditions above can result in immediate judicial termination of the ARD program. The District Attorney will then proceed with the original charges against the defendant.


Upon successful completion of the ARD program, an applicant is eligible for expungement of the DUI charge. A Petition for Expungement must be properly completed and filed with the appropriate county, state and local authorities. The requirements for expungement in Pennsylvania are quite tedious and vary from county to county, so it is strongly advised that an attorney assist in the expungement process.

Selecting a Pennsylvania DUI Attorney

If you have been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances in Pennsylvania, your best opportunity for success rests on whether you have an experienced DUI lawyer on your side.

Experienced DUI attorneys will help their clients obtain a reduced penalty as allowable by law. This can keep you out of jail, reduce the amount of time your driver’s license is suspended, and even remove the charge from your criminal record through assistance with an application for ARD and expungement. A DUI conviction on your record can severely hurt your future, barring you from employment opportunities and even impacting child custody determinations. Due to the severity of the consequences stemming from a Pennsylvania DUI charge, it is extremely important that you retain qualified counsel to protect yourself.

When selecting a Pennsylvania DUI attorney, there are a few issues you should consider. A good DUI attorney is experienced in DUI defense. An experienced PA DUI attorney has many advantages. An experienced attorney will be familiar with applicable case law, will have the ability to recognize any defects in the prosecution’s case against you, will bring extensive trial experience to your side of the case, and most importantly, will be able to advise you about your rights and your options as you move through the process.

A good DUI attorney should advise you of the possible penalties and consequences you will face if convicted, will help you realistically understand your chances of success at trial, and will present practical solutions tailored to your particular situation.

At The Martin Law Firm, your initial consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable Montgomery County, PA DUI lawyer is free of charge. We take the time to get to know you and learn the facts surrounding your arrest, and we present options to proceed based on the particular set of circumstances surrounding your case. If we take your case, it is because we sincerely believe that we can improve your position. We will thoroughly examine all records of your DUI traffic stop, determining whether there is sufficient evidence against you. We will do everything we can to minimize the negative impact of this unfortunate situation in your life, including assistance with application to the appropriate ARD program.

The Martin Law Firm provides comprehensive and skilled legal representation for those charged with DUI in Montgomery County, PA, and other surrounding counties. We are experienced in all aspects of Pennsylvania DUI law, and we regularly assist clients with DUI and DUI-related matters in the Pennsylvania courts. Contact an experienced Montgomery County, PA DUI attorney at The Martin Law Firm today to learn how we can help you.

Additional resources provided by the author

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

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