Plea Bargain In A DUI Case

The goal for you and your DUI attorney should always be to win your case or to do the best that can be done under the circumstances presented. If you can’t obtain a dismissal of all charges, being charged with a DUI may mean that you have an important decision to make – whether to take your case to trial or accept a plea bargain. Sometimes taking your driving under the influence case to trial is in your best interests, but in other cases a skillfully negotiated plea bargain may offer the most favorable outcome.

A plea bargain can be a particularly good option if the district attorney has a strong case against you and you’re unlikely to prevail at trial. Your DUI attorney may be able to negotiate a settlement or resolution where you plead guilty in exchange for reduced consequences. Other options include admission to various programs that are available in different jurisdictions, including ARD or Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition; Intermediate Punishment and/or Recovery Court.

In cases where the Commonwealth has a weaker case, options may include a reduction in the Tier level of a case (ie from highest tier to middle tier); or a reduction to another offense. Be aware, though, that many of the local District Attorney’s offices would rather lose the DUI at trial than voluntarily reduce a DUI to a non DUI offense.

The plea bargains that can be negotiated in a DUI case are highly complex, so you need a defense attorney to do so for you.

A.R.D. – Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition

If you’re facing a first-time DUI charge you may be eligible for a program called A.R.D., or Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, which will allow you to resolve your driving under the influence case without a criminal record.

A.R.D. is a program that emphasizes treatment instead of incarceration. Some counties have different guidelines, but, generally, in order to be eligible for accelerated rehabilitative disposition, you cannot have been convicted of a DUI in the past 10 years. However, the district attorney has discretion to recommend or deny an individual for the program and each County District Attorney uses slightly different considerations for the program.

If you’re accepted for ARD you’ll be under the court’s supervision – similar to probation – for six months. You’ll also be required to pay restitution if ordered and all court fines and fees and may be required to pay traffic fines, complete community service, highway safety classes and or alcohol or drug treatment. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be subject to license suspension for 30 to 90 days. It is possible to avoid suspension altogether in some cases.

If you complete all of the requirements for a A.R.D., your DUI charge will be dismissed and you won’t have a criminal record from your driving under the influence arrest. You may then also be able to expunge the DUI arrest from your record. If you fail to meet the requirements after being accepted into the A.R.D. program, the charges against you will be reinstated and you’ll be prosecuted for driving under the influence.

ARD can bring a satisfactory outcome to your first-time DUI case, but it’s not your only option. It may be possible to reach a favorable plea bargain or successfully fight your driving under the influence charge in court.


DUI Enhancement In Pennsylvania

There are a number of different factors that can result in significant enhancements to a DUI charges which including but are not limited to 1) a DUI that involves personal injury or series injuries; 2) a dui accident that results in vehicular homicide; 3) a DUI involving leaving the scene of an accident.  Other enhancements involve 1) multiple DUI’s within a ten (10) year period, 2) a dui where the blood alcohol level is twice the legal limit (.16%) or higher; 3) a DUI where the driver refuses to submit to chemical testing; 4) a dui involving a commercial drivers license (CDL) or 5) a DUI involving a minor driver.

Pennsylvania has a unique three-tiered system for charging DUI based on blood alcohol content (BAC) and prior convictions. However, unless serious injury or death was involved, all three tiers are charged as misdemeanors with progressively more serious repercussions for higher BAC and/or prior DUI convictions.

Felony DUI charges are extremely serious allegations that carry prison time and other harsh penalties. Some felony charges that can be brought in Pennsylvania DUI charges involving serious injury or death include felony DUI injury, aggravated assault while under the influence, and homicide while under the influence.

It may be possible for you to have all charges dismissed against you, or it may be possible to plead guilty to less-serious charges and/or receive reduced punishment with a skillfully negotiated plea bargain. A plea bargain should be just that – a good deal for both you and the district attorney.

Both felony and misdemeanor DUI charges carry harsh repercussions, so it’s imperative that you have a top defense attorney on your side who will be appropriately aggressive on your behalf, fighting for you, seeking to do the best job possible under the circumstances presented in your case.

Pretrial Motions

The best DUI attorneys don’t give up because the facts look grim. Experienced litigators know that every step should be considered to contest a conviction for driving while intoxicated; including legal challenges.

The issues your DUI attorney will consider when determining which pretrial motions to submit include whether the stop of your vehicle was legal, whether the field tests administered to you were instructed and scored properly leading to a proper arrest decision by the officer, whether or not your arrest was lawful, whether you were advised of your Miranda rights before being questioned, your chemical test results were accurate, whether complaints have been made against the arresting officer, and, if you have prior DUI convictions, whether those can be stricken from the record to reduce your potential repercussions.

Pretrial motions may significantly strengthen your defense in your DUI case. A DUI Lawyer will carefully evaluate your case to determine the pretrial motions that may improve your prospects in your driving under the influence case. It may be possible to fight your PA DUI charge and win, but you’ll never know if you plead guilty without first exploring your options.


Why Fight A DUI Charge?

Many drivers charged with a DUI  worry that fighting the charges is a waste of time and money, especially if they “failed” a field sobriety test or a chemical test. Clients often ask if there is any point to fighting a DUI charge. This question is completely reasonable. In fact, there may be excellent reasons to fight the drunken driving allegations.  The stop of your vehicle can be challenged, as well as the arrest, the results of the field sobriety tests, breath tests, and the blood or urine testing. Learn more about Legal Challenges.

Our criminal justice system presumes you are innocent of DUI unless a judge or jury convicts you. In order to find you guilty of a DUI charge, all 12 jurors must be convinced of your culpability beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jurors cannot agree on a unanimous verdict, the case will result in a “hung jury,” which could be an excellent outcome in a DUI case. Although prosecutors have the option of retrying cases with hung juries, they sometimes opt not to do so, which means the charges will be dismissed.

There are several disadvantages to pleading guilty to your DUI charge without even exploring the possibility of challenging the case. The most obvious is the penalties – pleading guilty means that you can be sentenced to fines, probation, a driver’s license suspension, and possibly even jail time. Although these consequences are possible if your defense is unsuccessful, pleading guilty means that punishment will be automatic.

Another disadvantage to pleading guilty to a DUI charge is the possibility of increased punishment if you’re arrested for drunk driving again. Many states have a 10-year look back period for DUI offenses, which means that if you get arrested for DUI within 10 years of a prior conviction, you’ll face a second-offense driving under the influence charge. However, if your second DUI arrest occurs more than 10 years after the first one, it will be treated as a first-time drunk driving charge.

It may be possible to fight your DUI charge and win, but you’ll never know if you plead guilty without first exploring your options

Implied Consent

Implied consent law requires you to submit to a chemical test of your breath, blood or urine if you’re arrested for DUI. Refusal to submit to a chemical test after a DUI arrest can be punished by a one-year driver’s license suspension and up to three days in jail. If you’ve been arrested for drunk driving, you need a skilled defense lawyer on your side.

A chemical test refusal in DUI case is a civil matter, not a criminal case. The Department of Transportation can suspend your driver’s license for a full year if you’re found to have refused a chemical test after a lawful DUI arrest. The burden of proof in civil matters is lower than in criminal matters, so the state isn’t required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

To sustain a license suspension under the Implied Consent Law, the Department of Transportation (DOT) must establish that a licensee (1) was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) based on reasonable grounds that he was operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, (2) was asked to submit to a chemical test, (3) refused to submit to the requested chemical test, and, (4) was warned that refusal would result in a license suspension.

It may be possible to challenge your chemical test refusal in your DUI case. Establishing the circumstances of your refusal is critical to determining the appropriate challenge. There are actually two types of refusals – expressed and implied.

Although you don’t have the right to consult with an attorney before submitting to a chemical test in a DUI case, police must inform you of the consequences of a refusal. If you weren’t adequately warned of the repercussions of a refusal, it is possible that you not have to suffer the penalties that can be imposed upon you.


Sobriety Check Points

Police are increasingly relying on sobriety checkpoints to catch suspected DUI drivers. The courts have repeatedly ruled that these roadblocks don’t violate drivers’ constitutional rights as long as certain guidelines are followed. If you were arrested for a DUI at a sobriety checkpoint where police didn’t follow the protocol laid out by the courts, it is possible to successfully challenge your case. It’s important to find a criminal defense attorney that knows the proper arrest procedures so if the arresting law enforcement officer did not follow procedure the attorney can challenge the legality of the arrest.

The law requires that sobriety checkpoints must ensure the safety of both drivers and police, be highly visible, and minimize the amount of time that each driver is stopped at the checkpoint.  Police should stop each driver just long enough to ask a few brief questions and to spot signs of intoxication such as an odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and glassy, bloodshot eyes. Drivers that show no signs of intoxication should be allowed to leave the checkpoint without any further delay.

Drivers who show signs of impairment should be sent to a separate area for a field sobriety test.  Any additional investigation must be based on probable cause, and general rules of detention and arrest apply.

Sobriety checkpoints must be planned as part of an ongoing safe-driving campaign and follow established departmental policy. Sobriety checkpoints should be planned with the help of a supervising judge and a representative from the district attorney’s office. The supervising officers must thoroughly understand the civil rights and safety issues that can arise at a sobriety checkpoint. Police should advise the public of the sobriety checkpoint by making an announcement through local media, although they’re not required to disclose the exact location.

It may be possible to challenge evidence gathered at a sobriety checkpoint or even your DUI arrest itself.  It’s important to hire a lawyer who will thoroughly analyze your arrest and the circumstances of a sobriety checkpoint to determine the appropriate challenges.

Imperfections Of Field Sobriety Testing

The district attorneys prosecuting your DUI case will attempt to use your field sobriety test performance as evidence of your intoxication. However, your defense lawyer may be able to use the same field sobriety test result to demonstrate that you were not impaired. An experienced DUI attorney will thoroughly review your field sobriety test performance to determine whether the results may be used to advance your defense.

Field sobriety tests are known as divided-attention tests – they purportedly detect mental and physical impairment by forcing you to concentrate on two separate tasks simultaneously. The district attorney in your DUI case will likely present any variation between the directions given by police and how you performed as evidence of mental and physical impairment.

However, field sobriety tests are imperfect, and there are many factors unrelated to alcohol intoxication that could cause you to perform poorly. Your DUI attorney will attempt to prove that you “failed” your field sobriety test because of issues unrelated to alcohol use.

There are many factors that could cause you to perform poorly on a field sobriety test, including illness, injury, fatigue, or even nervousness. If you performed physical aspects of the test poorly but did well on the mental tasks, your attorney can argue that you were not impaired. Experts agree that mental impairment occurs before physical impairment when an individual drinks alcohol.



Penalties For DWI In Pennsylvania

The penalties imposed for an alcohol-related offense in Pennsylvania depend on the person’s blood alcohol content level and the number of prior offenses an offender has accumulated. Pennsylvania has a tiered system of penalties based on the blood alcohol content of an offender.

Tier one involves a blood alcohol content of 0.08% to 0.99%. The second tier is for offenders with a BAC level of .10% to .15% and the third tier deals with serious offenses with a BAC of 0.16% or more. A tier one first offense is considered an ungraded misdemeanor and will result in a maximum probation period of 6 months and a $300 fine. A tier two second offense has more serious consequences. There is a mandatory jail term of 48 hours up to 6 months and fines of $500 to $5,000. A tier three first offense has penalties of a twelve month license suspension period, a mandatory 72 hours in jail, and fines of $1,000 to $5,000.

A tier one second offense has penalties of a twelve month license suspension, twelve months of using an ignition interlock device, 5 mandatory days in jail, and fines of $300 to $2,500. A tier two second offense carries a mandatory 30 days of jail time, $750 to $5,000 in fines, twelve months of ignition interlock device use, and a twelve month driver’s license suspension. A tier three second offense carries penalties such as a mandatory 90 days in jail, fines of $1,500 to $10,000, 12 months of ignition interlock device use, and a 12 month license suspension period.

A tier one third offense will result in a mandatory 10 days in jail, fines of $500 to $5,000, a 12 month license suspension period, and 12 months of using an ignition interlock device. A tier two third offense carries penalties of a mandatory 90 days in prison, fines of $1,500 to $10,000, license suspension for 18 months, and use of an ignition interlock device for 12 months. A tier three third offense will result in a mandatory one year jail term, license suspension of 18 months, use of an ignition interlock device for 12 months, and fines of $2,500 to $10,000. A tier one fourth offense will result in penalties of a mandatory 10 day jail term, $500 to $5,000 in fines, 12 months of ignition interlock device usage, and a 12 month license suspension.

A tier two fourth offense will result in a mandatory one year of imprisonment, fines of $1,500 to $10,000, license suspension for 18 months, and use of an ignition interlock device for 12 months. A tier three fourth offense will result in a mandatory one year in jail, $2,500 to $10,000 in fines, 18 months of license suspension, and 12 months of ignition interlock device usage. Because these penalties are severe, it is important that you contact a Pennsylvania DUI lawyer immediately to be sure that you have the best chance of defending yourself against serious DUI charges.

Demystifying Wealth Taxes

With advances in medical science being what they are, the only sure thing in life is that everyone will have to pay taxes.  Taxes come in all sorts of shapes, forms and varieties.  There is one  little understood tax genre broadly known as “wealth” taxes…I think you should know more.

The federal and all of the various local governments around the country like to levy taxes on their citizens.  It’s fun for them, and they’ve thought of many different ways of doing just that.

There are sales taxes, income taxes, property taxes, luxury taxes, sin taxes and, of course, wealth taxes.  Wealth taxes breakdown into three specific taxes: Gift, Estate, and Generation Skipping Transfer taxes.  I’ll “skip” (pun, get it?) talking about the Generation Skipping Tax for another post, and focus on Gift and Estate taxes.

The underlying policy of Gift and Estate taxes is basically two-fold: (1) if you’re wealthy you can pay more tax and (2) lawyers need jobs.  The primary concept to remember in this area is that these are taxes on wealth money and property accumulated (usually over the course of a lifetime) by a person. Although similar, these taxes have different triggers.

Estate Tax

The Estate Tax is imposed by the federal government and almost all of the states.  Fear-mongers refer to this tax as the “Death Tax” because it sounds scary and unfair.  Basically, at the moment just before a person’s death, he/she has or is deemed to have ownership of certain assets.  The value of all of these assets is added up, which figure becomes that person’s Gross Estate.  A few deductions later and the Gross Estate becomes the Taxable Estate.  Apply tax rate and voila, you have an amount of Estate Tax that must be paid from the person’s assets.  Pretty straightforward all in all.

Want an example?  Okay.  Imagine Joe dies after a long, fulfilling life.  At Joe’s death, he had a bank account as his only asset with $10M in it.  All other deductions, credits and complicated concepts aside…assume the estate tax rate is 30%.  Joe’s family will need to pay an estate tax of $3M.  If they don’t, the government will come down hard.

Gift Tax

The Gift Tax is a necessary supplement to the Estate Tax.  The Estate Tax, as described above, is basically a tax on wealth at the death of the owner.  So death is the triggering event.  The tax would be applied even if the owner was buried with all of his money.

The Gift Tax is applied in the case of lifetime transfers, known in legalese as “inter vivos” gifts.  So your Grandma gives you a $50 birthday gift…that’s a gift and theoretically if the gift was large enough, the Gift Tax would apply.

A major concept to understand in terms of the Gift Tax is that the person giving the gift pays the tax, not the person receiving the gift.  In this respect, the Gift Tax differs from the Income Tax.  Again, just to be clear, the person GIVING the gift pays the Gift Tax, not the person RECEIVING the gift.

Why?  Well…in part, a Gift Tax is needed to make sure the Estate Tax has any teeth.  If people could just give everything away before death, then nobody would have a taxable estate and the Estate Tax would be pointless.  The other reason is similar to that of the Estate Tax…if you can give away a bunch of money you can pay some extra tax.

One more example?  Okay.

Joe gives his friend Jake a gift of $25,000.  If the gift tax rate is 10%,  Joe owes the government $2500 in respect of his $25,000 gift to Jake.  Joe should learn not to be so generous.

Many, many, many planning opportunities exist with respect to both the Gift and Estate Taxes.  I’ll talk about more in later posts.