The Basics of Defending Against a DUI Charge in Pennsylvania

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

A proper defense to a DUI prosecution in Pennsylvania, as with a proper defense to any criminal prosecution, is dependent upon thorough preparation by the defense attorney, and preparation for a DUI case begins with the initial interview of the defendant.  "Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought” - Sun Tzu, The Art Of War.

How important are the police officer's observations in a DUI case in Pennsylvania?

The first opportunity the defense attorney will have to begin the discovery process is an examination of the complaint and the probable cause affidavits contained within or attached to that complaint.   The next opportunity is the preliminary hearing when applicable.  Of particular interest to an attorney defending a DUI case is the police officer's observations of the defendant at the time the defendant was initially stopped, the police officer's reasons for stopping the defendant, statements obtained from the defendant and any other witnesses, and the circumstances surrounding blood alcohol and field sobriety tests.

After a person is arrested and charged with driving under the influence, DUI cases in the Pennsylvania counties will proceed to preliminary hearing.  This will be the case whether the DUI case involves misdemeanors only or felony charges also.  In Philadelphia, most DUI cases will proceed to a DUI "trial" room in many instances after a DUI "status" listing in courtroom 404 of the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center.  If a Philadelphia DUI case involves any felony charges, however, such as Aggravated Assault by DUI for example, the case will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing in the applicable geographic "zone" preliminary hearing courtroom (which is based on the area of the city where the DUI arrest took place.)

How can I get ARD for a DUI charge in Pennsylvania?

Although the "waiver" of the preliminary hearing is generally required unless an exception is made by the Office of the District Attorney in the applicable Pennsylvania county (including Philadelphia when felony charges are part of the DUI case), following the preliminary hearing, the defense attorney may decide to explore the possibility of having the defendant accepted into the ARD program.  ("ARD" stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, and is generally intended for Pennsylvania first-time offenders.) 

It should be noted that many Pennsylvania District Attorney's Offices, including those in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton County, require a prompt application for admittance to the ARD program, setting forth certain time limits, starting from the arrest, within which the application must be made.  An effective defense attorney will know the policy of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Office that is prosecuting the defendant's case.

What happens after the preliminary hearing in a DUI case in Pennsylvania?

Following the preliminary hearing, the defendant's formal arraignment will be scheduled.  An effective defense attorney should, as necessary, consider filing a bill of particulars at this time.  A request for the defendant's discovery should also be pursued.

What is the purpose of a bill of particulars in a DUI case?

A bill of particulars is submitted by the prosecution to the defendant, at the defendant's demand, to provide the facts alleged in the complaint or the indictment that related to the commission of the crime. The defendant is given notice of the offenses with which he or she is charged so that a defense may be prepared

Can a motion to suppress evidence be filed in a Pennsylvania DUI case?

DUI cases are ideal cases for suppression of improperly obtained evidence.  Examples of motions to suppress that can be filed on behalf of a defendant facing DUI charges include:

  • A motion to suppress physical evidence, identification evidence, or evidence of a confession or statement.
  • A motion in limine (Latin: "at the start", literally, "on the threshold") to disallow use of the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) or blood test result in a Philadelphia DUI case due to failure to conform with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations regarding chemical testing of blood or breath, and/or the "Two Hour" Rule (which provides that a Breathalyzer has to be administered to a DUI defendant within two hours of his or her arrest).

Considerations When a DUI Case is Tried Before a Jury

"Voir dire" is the preliminary examination of a witness or a juror by a judge or attorney (either the defense attorney or prosecutor), and from an effective defense attorney's perspective, the voir dire for a DUI case should explore the prospective jurors' prejudice or bias towards drinking, any unfortunate incidents which the prospective juror or close family members of the prospective juror may have had with drunk drivers, and whether the juror or any close member of the juror's family is a member of any organization advocating a position regarding drinking and driving (such as MADD or SADD).

Can I get an expert witness to testify for me in a DUI case in Pennsylvania?

Because the prosecution's evidence is often, in large part, composed of the results of chemical or breath test, an effective defense attorney should consider utilizing a forensic toxicologist or an expert on breath test machines (to challenge the Breathalyzer for example) or chemical testing for the purpose of rebutting the prosecution's case (in DUI cases involving controlled substances for example; marijuana in particular).

Pennsylvania DUI Attorney | Philadelphia Lawyer to Defend Against Pennsylvania DUI Charges

Being charged with a DUI will be burdensome for anyone; the prospect of a jail sentence, license suspension, Ignition Interlock, having to be supervised by a probation officer, and so forth, are nothing that anyone should have to face alone.  If you or a loved one is needs help defending against DUI charges in Pennsylvania, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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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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