A York County judge recently convicted a man of a twelfth offense of a Pennsylvania DUI charge as well as a third offense of Driving Under Suspension DUI-related. As a DUI defense attorney, I have seen people with 4 to 5 prior DUIs, but 12 was a record for me. Also, when people have multiple prior convictions of drunk driving, a few of the prior offenses tend to be pretty old and occurred when the person was young and dumb. In this case, according to the fox43.com article, the man has had eight of these twelve driving under the influence convictions within the last 10 years. In 2009, the man was sentenced on four DUI incidents and was sent to state prison for a 3 to 15 year sentence. The man would have served at least 3 years in a state prison before being released on parole. The current charge obviously occurred while the man was on state parole, so the man will be returned to a state correctional facility for the parole violation in addition to receiving a sentence on the new case.
What Sentence is the Judge Likely to Impose in a Repeat DUI Offender Case?
In Pennsylvania, prior convictions within the last 10 years impact the mandatory minimum sentences that are imposed in a DUI case. While the man's four convictions outside of 10 years do not impact the mandatory minimum sentence that is imposed, the priors will be considered by the judge in determining the actual sentence that is imposed. For example, in this case, the man faces a mandatory minimum sentence of one year incarceration for the Pennsylvania drunk driving charge, but the judge will impose a much longer sentence than the required mandatory.
The DUI charge in this case is graded as a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years incarceration and a $10,000.00 fine. Generally, under Pennsylvania sentencing laws, a judge is not permitted to impose a minimum sentence of incarceration that exceeds one-half the maximum sentence. In this case, the worst sentence that the judge could impose on the DUI charge would be a sentence of 2 ½ to 5 years. Obviously, the judge imposing a sentence on this person would want to impose a much more severe sentence if he could. The man was also convicted of the Driving Under Suspension charge, a first-degree misdemeanor; Possession of a Controlled Substance, an ungraded misdemeanor offense; and Habitual Offender, a second degree misdemeanor. The first‑degree misdemeanor conviction would allow the judge to impose another sentence of 2 ½ to 5 years, the second-degree misdemeanor would allow for another 1 to 2 year sentence, and the misdemeanor drug possession charge would allow the judge to add another 6 to 12 months on the sentence.
Should Repeat Pennsylvania DUI Charges be Felonies?
Because of cases like this, many people argue that the grading of repeat DUI offenses should be increased to felonies. I generally believe that many of Pennsylvania sentencing laws are too severe, especially mandatory minimum sentences. In my opinion, a sentencing judge should be permitted to review the facts and circumstances of a case and impose an appropriate sentence, and mandatory sentencing laws remove that power from the judge. In this case, I admit that I may actually support an increase in the grading of the charge to allow a judge to impose a sentence that will keep this repeat DUI offender off the road. I have represented many repeat drunk driving offenders over the years that have learned their lessons, stopped driving while under the influence, and returned to a law-abiding lifestyle. This guy has not gotten the message so far. He may get the message one day, but in the short term, the only way to protect society appears to be by putting him behind bars. As noted above, this guy could face at least 6 ½ years as a minimum sentence and up to 13 years as a maximum. Also, I do not believe that the state parole board will be releasing him at his minimum sentence. In addition to this sentence, he will also be serving more of his prior 15 year sentence. In my opinion, the duration of prison time that this man is facing is sufficient to remove him from society for an extended period of time. The current law works and thereby need not be changed.