Pennsylvania Drug-DUI Charges – No Need to Prove “Under the Influence”


Everyone knows that it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol if a person’s blood alcohol level is above the legal limit. With alcohol, a person is “under the influence” or affected by the alcohol as long as it is present in the body. The body is able to break down and rid itself of alcohol within hours. As the person’s blood alcohol level decreases, there is a corresponding reduction to the person’s level of intoxication. Basically, the blood alcohol level gives an indication of how intoxicated the person is at that time.

DUI charges related to alcohol consumption are generally filed based upon the blood alcohol level of the person, and the severity of the penalties is directly  related to the blood alcohol level. In order to be convicted of a routine DUI, the district attorney must simply have evidence that the DUI suspect was driving a vehicle, that blood was obtained within 2 hours of the driving, and that the blood alcohol concentration was over the legal limit.

Drug Tests Are Different from Alcohol Tests

Drug tests are slightly different from alcohol tests in that drug tests do not simply determine current levels of intoxication. While the human body can break down and expel alcohol relatively quickly, the body is unable to rid itself of drugs as quickly. When the body breaks down the active ingredient in drugs, the by-products, called metabolites, can be found in the person’s blood for a period of time after drug use was stopped. Evidence of marijuana use can actually be detected in a person’s blood weeks after the person smoked weed. A forensic analysis of the blood can present a picture of approximately the quantity of drug ingested by the person and when the timeframe based upon the drug residue found in the test results. Therefore, a positive test for the presence of drugs confirms that the person has taken the drug in the past, but a positive test does not necessarily mean that the person was under the influence of drugs when the person drove. To the contrary, the metabolites may actually show that the person had smoked marijuana the week prior to driving.

Pennsylvania’s “Per Se” Drug-DUI Law

While a DUI based upon the consumption of alcohol requires that the person is under the influence, no such requirement exists for some Pennsylvania drug-DUI charges. Instead, under what is called a “per se” drug-DUI law, found in 75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(d)(1), a person can be charged and convicted of a DUI for having metabolites of a controlled substance in his or her blood. Simply stated, with some drug-DUI charges, there is no requirement that the person is actually under the influence or impaired. Instead, if the person’s blood contains metabolites evidencing prior drug use that are above a level as determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the person can be charged and convicted of a drug-DUI. The most recent drug levels issued by the Department of Health for 2013 can be reviewed here.

Impact of Pennsylvania Drug-DUI Law

The per se drug law in Pennsylvania allows a person to be charged and convicted of a DUI based upon the use of drugs days and possibly weeks before driving. A somewhat odd hypothetical to evidence the expansiveness of the DUI law is a Penn State student could be charged with a DUI for riding a skateboard in a campus parking lot if they had smoked marijuana a few days prior. A DUI offense is a serious charge in Pennsylvania as even a first offense often results in mandatory sentences that include jail time, fines, and a license suspension. Many first time offenders are eligible to participate in the Centre County ARD program to reduce the penalties and also avoid a conviction. If you or a loved one have been charged with a DUI or any criminal offense, call an experienced State College criminal defense attorney at JD Law for a free consultation.