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State College DUI Case - Virginia DUI Not a "Prior Offense"

DUI charges are treated as very serious offenses in Pennsylvania as evidenced by the mandatory minimum penalties that must be imposed for convictions. The mandatory minimum penalties often include mandatory periods of incarceration, license suspensions, and fines. The DUI signs that one routinely sees along Pennsylvania roadways that state "DUI - You Can't Afford It" are completely true. The mandatory minimum sentences are primarily based upon two factors: 1) the number of prior offenses; and 2) the blood alcohol level of the DUI suspect. As would be expected, a person that has a higher blood alcohol level or has prior DUI offenses is subject to more severe mandatory minimum penalties.

When determining the prior offenses, out-of-state DUI convictions can constitute a prior offense of DUI in Pennsylvania, but not all out-of-state DUI convictions count as a prior offense of DUI. Instead, a judge is required to review whether the out-of-state DUI law is "substantially similar" to the Pennsylvania DUI law. If the two DUI laws are substantially similar, then the out-of-state DUI counts as a prior offense.

A Centre County DUI lawyer recently argued that a prior conviction of DUI from Virginia could not be considered a prior offense of DUI in Pennsylvania. The Centre County judge had to review the Virginia DUI law to determine if it was substantially similar to the Pennsylvania DUI law. In this case, the State College DUI defendant was charged with DUI-General Impairment, and this charge prohibits a person from driving after having consumed a sufficient amount of alcohol so that the person was incapable of driving safely. Basically, the Pennsylvania law permits a person to drive with alcohol in one's system, but a person is prohibited from being too drunk to drive safely. The Virginia law at issue in this Centre County DUI case prohibited a person from merely driving while under the influence. The judge stated that a prohibition of driving under the influence was not substantially similar to being intoxicated to the extent of being incapable of safe driving, therefore the Virginia DUI conviction was not a prior offense of DUI in Pennsylvania.

I expect that some people would be argue that it doesn't make sense that the judge cannot consider an out-of-state DUI conviction in determining the appropriate sentence to impose in a DUI case. It must be noted that the judge's decision only impacted whether or not the person had a prior offense and did not prohibit the judge from actually considering the conviction. The judge's decision simply prohibited the district attorney from seeking increased mandatory minimum sentences associated with "prior offenses" of DUI. Sentencing judges are permitted to consider prior convictions of DUI from other states regardless of whether they are substantially similar in determining the appropriate sentence to impose in a particular DUI case.

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