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Your Philadelphia DUI Case: The Basics

If you or someone you know has been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both in Philadelphia, you're probably looking for legal advice. No matter if you were pulled over in Center City, near the Bella Vista area, or out by Templetown, the laws are all the same in Philadelphia County. Here are some things to know if you've been arrested and charged with a DUI.

The Crime Fighters in Blue

If you've been pulled over for a DUI, it's a safe bet one of these ladies or gentlemen had the pleasure of evaluating you: the Philadelphia Police, the Philadelphia Sherriff, or the Pennsylvania State Police.

After a failing a few field sobriety tests, falling over curbside and blowing a ridiculously high .15 on the Breathalyzer (you only had two beers, honest!), the cops decided to take you to jail. Sorry, this won't be the Four Seasons at Logan Square.

Next stop is your preliminary arraignment at the appropriate Philadelphia courthouse. The judge may set bail or other conditions for your release such as periodic alcohol testing.

Explain My DUI Philadelphia DUI Charges

Ok, we will. As you likely know, DUI stands for driving under the influence.

You can be charged with a Philadelphia DUI in two ways. The first is based on your blood-alcohol content (BAC). Blood-alcohol content is the amount of alcohol in your blood. It can be measured in one of several ways. After your DUI arrest, you will be taken to the police station to have your BAC tested. In Philadelphia, this test must be done within two hours of your arrest, if you allow it (see below).

If your BAC is .08 or above, you may be charged with DUI. A BAC of .08 means that your blood contains eight one-hundredths of a percent of alcohol.

Even if your BAC is lower than .08, you can still be legally charged with a DUI. If you are impaired due to drugs, alcohol or a combination of the two, an officer may still arrest you.

Can I refuse the chemical test?

Yes, but the Pennsylvania Department of Public Transportation may immediately suspend your license. Pennsylvania enforces implied consent laws, which means that anyone who has a driver's license agrees to submit to BAC testing if asked to do so by a police officer. Refusing to comply means separate and additional sanctions, including the suspension of your driver's license for up to one year.

Three Levels of Philadelphia DUI Penalties for First-Time Offenders

Pennsylvania has a unique tier system to penalize those found guilty of committing DUI. The tiers are based on your BAC. The higher your BAC, the more severe the penalties. Keep in mind, multiple convictions will also result in harsher penalties. For a full list, click here.

  • Lowest penalty: BAC of .08 to .99
  • Higher penalty: BAC of .10 to .159
  • Highest penalty: BAC of .16 or more or controlled substances

Under the first tier, a first-time offender may receive up to 6 months probation, $300 fine, alcohol highway safety school, and treatment if ordered.

Under the second tier, you may receive a one-year license suspension, five days to six months in jail, $500 to $5,000 in fines, alcohol highway safety school, and possible court-ordered treatment.

Under the third tier, you face the harshest penalties. Why? Because the court found you are drinking and driving at a dangerously high level. Expect a one-year license suspension, 72 hours to 6 months jail, $1,000 to $5,000 fine, alcohol highway safety school, and treatment when ordered.


If this is the first time you have been charged with DUI, and you did not cause an accident that resulted in injury or death, you may be eligible for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition or ARD. If you qualify, your lawyer will help you apply to ARD.

ARD is a diversionary program, and you will be enrolled for two years. After you successfully complete the program, your charges will be dismissed and can be expunged from your record.

Ignition Interlock Device

What's this about an ignition interlock device? In some situations, the court may order you to install this little contraption in any car you own or operate. It is designed to make sure you aren't drinking alcohol and driving. Anytime you attempt to start your car, you must first blow into it. Here's a useful guide to ignition interlock devices (PDF).

Laws for Commercial Drivers

Professional drivers in the state may not have a BAC over .02 to .04 percent, depending on their specific profession. In addition to a reduced BAC, they also face stricter sanctions than the general public if they are convicted of a DUI. Even a first time offender faces 2 days of mandatory time jail time and a maximum fine of $5,000. They may also lose their commercial driver's license for between one and three years.

DUI Under 21 Years

Attention young Philadelphia drivers. Thinking about drinking and driving? Bad idea. Pennsylvania has no tolerance for underage drinking and driving. If your BAC is .02% or higher, there are consequences: jail term ranging from two (2) days to six (6) months, your license will be suspended for a full year, and you will pay a fine of $500 to $5,000. Bottom line: if you are under 21 and have been drinking, don't even think of getting behind the wheel. It's just not worth it.

Will a DUI conviction go on my driving record?

Absolutely. A DUI conviction will go on your Philadelphia driving record and remain indefinitely. You may be able to get the conviction expunged from your criminal record after a period of time.

Remember, it's best to never drink or use drugs and drive. Select a designated driver ahead of time who will stay sober. If you are impaired and don't have a designated driver, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation. Finally, if you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, call 911.

Get a Handle on Your DUI Case: Contact an Attorney Today

Although drunk driving is quite common, as far as criminal charges are concerned, it is taken very seriously. If you have been charged with a DUI in Philadelphia, a good attorney can challenge the evidence and make sure you get the best outcome possible. Find out more about the legal merits of your case by meeting with a Pennsylvania DUI attorney today.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


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