The 3 Most Common Questions from 1st DUI time offenders in Pennsylvania

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a big issue in Pennsylvania, especially in the summer month with busy travel weekends like Labor Day where there are increased police drunk driving patrols and checkpoint on the major highways and roads through our Commonwealth. Most 1st time DUI offenders have never been in type of criminal trouble. Based on my experience handling these cases in Philadelphia and the surrounding Montgomery, Delaware and Bucks counties, most people who face these criminal charges, have the following questions.

  1. What is the criminal penalty for first time DUI offenders in Pennsylvania?

ANSWER: There isn’t exactly a straight answer for this question because First time DUI offenders are eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program (ARD). This is like a one time “get out of jail free card” and a person is usually eligible if they have no prior criminal history.   Any type of criminal history for something drugs, guns, theft or violence will disqualify you for this program.

ARD allows a person to avoid a possible 1 year license suspension and jail time in exchange for completing a diversionary program. If you complete the program, you may not only avoid a license suspension but be eligible to have your record expunged. You may still, however, lose your license if you receive the ARD program but the longest suspension is 60 days unless you’re minor than its 90 days

ARD may sound good but there are plenty of cases where the charges are so weak that you may want to consider rejecting the ARD and fighting and going to trial! Obviously though you should make this decision only after speaking with your lawyer about your options.


  1. If you aren’t accepted into a pre-trial diversion like ARD, does everyone face the same type of DUI regardless of how much they drink?

ANSWER: No! There are actually 9 different DUI charges in Pennsylvania but the most common are violation of Section 3802(a)(1) 3802(a)(2), 3802(b) and 3802 (c). These are what is known as tier offenses. The letters follow the tiers and subsection A is the lowest. The tiers are based on the amount of alcohol in your blood stream (Blood Alcohol Concentration – BAC) at the time you were driving and whether you’re a repeat offender.

The legal BAC limit for drunk driving in Pennsylvania is .08. Section 3802 A (1) doesn’t require that the prosecution (assistant district attorney) prove any specific blood alcohol concentration (BAC) but only that your were impaired and not able to safely operate a motor vehicle at the time of your arrest.

All the other subparagraphs of the DUI statute require that the district attorney establish a specific BAC through a chemical test – usually a blood or breathalyzer test. The prosecution would have to meet the following BAC thresholds beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a criminal conviction:

  • Section (A2) – .08 but less than .10
  • Section (B) – at least .10
  • Section (C) – at least .16 or higher (double the legal limit)

In addition to the BAC element of drunk driving the ADA would still have to establish impairment, and control of the motor vehicle (you were actually driving) beyond a reasonable doubt.


  1. Can your criminal defense lawyer negotiate a better deal?

 ANSWER: No he can’t. You can’t negotiate a DUI because there are mandatory minimum sentences even for 1st time offenders in Pennsylvania! For a first time offender, subparagraph (A1) assuming no accident, and (A2)- doesn’t carry a license suspension. subparagraph (B) carries 2 days in jail, a 12 month license suspension, and $500 min fine. subparagraph (C) carries 3 days in jail, a 12 month license suspension, ignition interlock, and a $1,000.00 min fine


If you need to hire a lawyer for your DUI, you need to look beyond the websites and the marketing pitches and see how the attorney is backing up his or her claims. Look at client reviews – these are really important. For more information on DUI, I encourage you to read the 2nd edition of my DUI book—5 Ways to Fight and Win Your Pennsylvania DUI case.