Nearly everyone experiences a traffic stop at some point in their lives. Most of these are routine and result in a simple fine you can pay online. On occasion, the stop leads the officers to pursue more serious criminal charges — commonly a DUI or drug possession. For the last three years, due to precedence established in Commonwealth v. Perfetto, Pennsylvania state prosecutors have been legally unable to bring additional charges in cases where a traffic violation has already been issued and resolved.
Senate Bill 588, which was written to specifically close the “loophole” created by the Perfetto case, was signed into law by Governor Wolf in July. The statute is already in effect, making traffic stops increasingly riskier for Pennsylvania drivers.
What Is Perfetto?
In 2019, Pennsylvania decided the case of Commonwealth v. Perfetto, a double jeopardy case in which the defendant (Marc Perfetto) was charged with a DUI and minor traffic offenses during a traffic stop. Eventually, the DUI charges were dismissed. Why? Because Mr. Perfetto had already been charged and convicted in traffic court for his minor violations.
Perfetto's attorneys reasoned that under the state's Double Jeopardy clause, the defendant could not lawfully be charged twice in the same court for crimes arising from the same incident (i.e., the traffic stop). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard the case and agreed with the defense's argument. Judicial precedence meant that anyone facing a similar situation to Mr. Perfetto — very typical, especially with DUIs — could use a similar defense with success.
Traffic court generally moves much quicker than criminal court, so it's common for traffic infractions to be resolved well before a DUI charge is put before a judge. Because of this, state prosecutors had to be especially precise and cautious when pursuing criminal charges that stemmed from a traffic stop. It added another layer of complexity that favored the defendant.
That was the case until July 2022, when the Pennsylvania Senate passed SB 588.
Senate Bill 588 — How Does It Affect You
In effect, the statute nullifies Perfetto. It amends the state's existing Double Jeopardy clause to exclude summary offenses and minor traffic offenses. It's simple, but it has big implications for the way these cases will be handled going forward.
Without the protections afforded by Perfetto, any arrest during a traffic stop carries more weight. There is no longer a procedural minefield for law enforcement officers and prosecutors to consider before filing charges. Your best chance at a positive outcome is by hiring an experienced defense attorney as soon as the incident occurs.
Have Someone In Your Corner
If you have been charged with a DUI or another criminal offense during a traffic stop, you are not alone. Even without Perfetto, there are always strategies to minimize the potential fallout of your charges.
Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, especially when it comes to DUI cases. Contact his expert team at the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686 or submitting an online form.