Is Driving Under the Influence of Drugs More Serious Than Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol in Philadelphia?

Data from the Pennsylvania DUI Association indicates that in 2017 there were 293 alcohol-related fatalities statewide. During that year there was an average of 28 traffic accidents that occurred each day that were alcohol-related. In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on the enforcement of drivers that are operating under the influence of drugs.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation explains that law enforcement training efforts have been successful in detecting drug-impaired drivers. The two primary programs for officer training are the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement and the Drug Recognition Expert programs. Over the last several years, the number of individuals charged with drug-related DUI has continued to increase.

Those who are charged with a DUI are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from a seasoned criminal defense attorney. There are many potential defenses that an attorney may employ in these matters.

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol of a Controlled Substance (§3802)

In comparing the severity of alcohol-related DUI offenses to drug-related DUI offenses it is important to first consider how alcohol-related DUI penalties are tiered. Drivers are prohibited from driving, operating or otherwise having control over a moving vehicle when they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in any of the following ranges.

  • General Impairment: Having a BAC of between .08 and .10%
  • High Rate of Alcohol: Having a BAC of between .10 and .159%
  • Highest Rate of Alcohol: A BAC of .16% or more
  • For Minors: Have a reduced threshold of .02% or more

Operating Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance

Drivers are prohibited from driving, operating or otherwise having control over a moving vehicle when their blood contains the following:

  • Schedule I controlled substances
  • Schedule II or III controlled substances that are not prescribed by a doctor
  • Metabolites or derivative of scheduled controlled substances
  • Multiple drugs that jeopardize someone's ability to safely operate a vehicle
  • Any combination of alcohol with a drug(s) that jeopardize someone's ability to safely operate a vehicle
  • “Solvent or noxious” substances (some examples are benzene, nitrous oxide or methyl alcohol)

Understanding Controlled Substances

In 1972, The Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act were implemented. A controlled substance is a “drug, substance, or immediate precursor” that is contained within Schedules I through V. There are various criteria considered when categorizing controlled substances.

  • Whether data show concerns with any “pharmacological” results or effect.
  • Whether evidence exists that the substance has a prior history of being abused.
  • If there is evidence showing the “scope, duration, and significance” of any such abuse involving the substance
  • How likely it is that a user can become mentally or physically addicted to the substance.
  • Any existing Federal classification
  • Evidence that the substance is associated with current controlled substances

Grading of Pennsylvania DUI Offenses (§3803)

First-time offenders face upgraded misdemeanor charges that are punishable by being placed on probation for up to six months and a $300 fine. Offenders are required to complete alcohol safety classes and may be required to submit to an assessment and possible treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

Second-time DUI offenders face upgraded misdemeanor charges and may be sentenced to a maximum of six months of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $2,500. These offenders may have their driver's license suspended for up to 12 months. Offenders are required to complete alcohol safety classes and may be required to submit to an assessment and possible treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. They also must have an ignition interlock device maintained in their vehicle for 12 months. These are devices that require a driver to submit a breath sample to start the vehicle's ignition.

Third-time DUI offenders face second-degree misdemeanor charges and may be sentenced to a maximum of two years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $5,000. These offenders may have their driver's license suspended for up to 12 months. They will likely be required to complete a treatment program for drug and alcohol abuse. They also must have an ignition interlock device maintained in their vehicle for 12 months.

Potential Felony-Level DUI

Those with three prior DUI convictions will have the charges upgraded to a third-degree felony offense. Felony charges may also apply when someone with two prior offenses is charged with operating while having the highest tier BAC of .16% or more. Prior offenses are considered to be any convictions that have occurred in the past 10 years.

All felony DUI offenders will have their driver's license suspended for 18 months. They also must have an ignition interlock device maintained in their vehicle for at least 12 months. The fines and terms of imprisonment that may be imposed for felony DUI offenses are as follows:

  • Third-Offense (Highest Tier): Between one to seven years of imprisonment and a fine of $2,500 to $10,000
  • Fourth-Offense Felony (General): Between ten days and seven years of imprisonment and a fine of $500 to $15,000
  • Fourth-Offense Felony (High): Between one and seven years of imprisonment and a fine of $1,500 to $15,000
  • Fourth-Offense Felony (Highest): Between one and seven years of imprisonment and a fine of $2,500 to $15,000

“Drugged” Driving DUI Penalties vs Alcohol-Related DUI Penalties

The penalties imposed for driving under the influence of a controlled substance are always equivalent to those of the highest tier alcohol-related DUI. This is the same enhancement that applies to drivers who refuse to submit to testing. Currently, there is no means of accurately establishing thresholds that constitute impairment from controlled substances.

Increased Enforcement of Drugged Driving

Motorists should expect laws and enforcement efforts geared to stop drugged driving to continue. In 2016, the state implemented a law legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Measures like these tend to heighten overall safety concerns that relate to impairment. Technological advancements continue that seek to develop less invasive methods (compared to drawing blood) for detecting drug impairment among drivers.

Experienced DUI Defense Attorney in Pennsylvania

Those convicted of DUI will face penalties such as imprisonment, fines, probation, and others. Individuals with prior convictions or those convicted of “drugged” driving will face enhanced penalties that have significant collateral consequences. Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience representing clients in these cases. For a case consultation, contact the office today at (215) 535-5353.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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