Pennsylvania Superior Court Held Illegal Sentence Imposed In Second Offense DUI Case


The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that a judge had imposed an illegal sentence in a second offense driving under the influence case in which the DUI defendant had refused to submit to a chemical test to determine his alcohol level. In Pennsylvania, a person that refuses a chemical test to determine blood alcohol level is often charged with Driving Under the Influence, in violation of 75  Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(a)(1), because that section of the Pennsylvania DUI law does not require a specific blood alcohol level. Instead, that charge requires proof that the driver or operator of the vehicle had imbibed a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the person was not capable of safely driving a vehicle. At a trial, the Commonwealth presents circumstantial evidence that the person was intoxicated or drunk, such as bloodshot, glassy eyes, slurred speech, difficulty standing, swaying, and a failure to pass the standardized field sobriety tests.

Penalties and Sentences for a Pennsylvania DUI Conviction

In Pennsylvania, there are three tiers or levels of penalties for DUI charges. Generally speaking, the higher the level of alcohol in a person’s system, the higher the tier level of penalties, and the more severe the sentence that is imposed. When a person refuses a blood test, the law allows the district attorney to seek third tier penalties. A two-time DUI offender in the third tier of penalties faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days incarceration, $1,500.00 fine, 18 month suspension of Pennsylvania operator’s privileges, and a 1-year ignition interlock requirement upon restoration of the driving privileges. A person that refuses to submit to the chemical testing, be it a breath or blood test, will also receive a second suspension directly from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation as a civil or administrative penalty.

Inconsistency in Pennsylvania DUI Law

In the case, captioned Commonwealth v. Musau, the court was required to review an apparent inconsistency in the Pennsylvania DUI law. The law states that a second offense of DUI with a refusal enhancement is to be graded as a misdemeanor of the first, and, generally speaking, such a misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of five years incarceration and a $10,000.00 fine. The DUI law stated that a second offense of violating 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(a) is punishable by a maximum sentence of only six months incarceration. The Superior Court was called upon to determine whether the maximum sentence for a second offense DUI-refusal case was six months of five years. In holding that the maximum was six months, the court noted that it was required by law to apply the more specific law as opposed to the general law, and, since the law expressly stated that the maximum sentence was six months, it was bound by provision. Therefore, the court reversed the lower court’s sentence that imposed a five year maximum sentence.  The man would still be required to serve the mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days incarceration.