A Montgomery County, Pennsylvania judge was recently called upon to sentence a man on five cases at one time, an event which is not always outside of the norm. There are situations in which a person goes through a crime spree and has multiple criminal complaints and charges filed. This case was different because four of the five cases involved drunk driving charges, and all four of those DUI cases were considered first offenses.
Pennsylvania DUI Prior Offenses
For many, many years, the definition of "prior offense" for drunk driving cases under 75 Pa.C.S.A. §3806 considered a conviction date for the first offense in conjunction with the offense date for the new offense. If the driver was not convicted on the first DUI before the driver drove drunk the second time, then the driver would actually be charged with two first offenses of driving under the influence. People that picked up numerous drunk driving cases within a short period of time could get multiple first offenses. In this particular case, the man accumulated four drunk driving incidents before a prosecutor could prosecute the man and obtain a conviction, so he was charged with four first offense DUIs.
Change to PA Drunk Driving Law Closes Loophole
The Pennsylvania legislature sought to end the practice of people getting multiple first offenses and thereby changed the definition of "prior offense." Now, it does not matter if the man was convicted on the first offense before picking up a second or third. Instead, the sentencing judge considers if the man has a prior conviction of DUI at the time of sentencing on the current offense. A conviction or guilty plea on a DUI charge that occurred a few seconds before being sentenced on a current case would count as a prior offense.
In order to truly understand the ramifications of the new law, we can consider this particular situation. Had the new law been in effect when the Norristown drunk driver was initially charged, he would have been sentenced on a first, second, third, and fourth offense of DUI. The impact would have been tremendous. For a first offense of drunk driving in the highest range of alcohol, the minimum sentence is 72 hours in jail and a maximum sentence of six months. A judge would not have to impose the mandatory minimum sentence, but the judge would have been limited to 3 months of incarceration per case, so a total of one year. If the man were facing a second offense of DUI in the highest tier of penalties, the mandatory sentence increases to 90 days and the maximum sentence increases to five years. For a third and fourth offense of drunk driving in the highest tier, the minimum sentence is one year incarceration and maximum of five years.
This man was very fortunate that the new DUI sentencing law did not apply to him. Instead of facing a relatively short county jail sentence, the new law would most likely have sent this man to state prison for a long time. The man was very accomplished, a former Chief Financial Officer for a Philadelphia healthcare provider. Just another example that alcohol abuse or addiction can take down anyone. No one is too smart or too accomplished to have problems with drugs or alcohol. Anyone suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction can seek help from Alcoholic Anonymous. According to an online article, the man did undergo in-patient treatment at a rehabilitative facility. Hopefully, the man applies the principles of sobriety that he learned in treatment and remains sober. The costs of returning to the bottle and being charged with another driving under the influence offense just substantially increased in Pennsylvania.