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DUI victims group pushes for stronger penalties

As the Pennsylvania legislative session nears adjournment, people who consider themselves victims of drunk drivers are pushing for stronger penalties. The draft legislation is aimed at repeat drunk drivers, and its principal goal is to make a third DUI offense a felony.

One of the leading advocates for the legislation is an organization called Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving. The founder of the group lost his daughter four years ago when her car was struck by a driver whose blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit. He had also taken heroin and was driving on a suspended license. The girl's father says that the pain from losing a child never goes away.

The organization is supporting Bill 961. If the bill passes, a DUI would be a felony on the fourth offense or third if the driver's BAC was at least twice the legal limit. According to the founder, Pennsylvania is one of only four states that does not classify a repeat DUI as a felony. The bill would also increase penalties for homicide by vehicle if the driver is intoxicated and penalties for driving after a DUI-related suspension.

Prospects for the bill's passage are uncertain. The bill passed the Senate in April and is now awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. The midterm elections are drawing near, and the legislature must adjourn before the elections.

Whether the legislature can find time to consider the bill and muster the political willpower to enact it remains to be seen. If the bill passes, persons facing DUI charges may wish to consult a lawyer who handles DUI defenses for advice on the effect of the legislation and the chances of negotiating a favorable plea agreement.

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