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New DUI law stiffens penalties and includes felony charges

Pennsylvania has long been unique as one of only four states whose drunk driving laws did not make any form of DUI violation a felony. The legislature has now shed that questionable distinction by passing a bill that makes certain repeat offenders guilty of a felony.

The bill received final votes on October 17, 2018 in both chambers of the legislature. The new law makes a third conviction for drunk driving a felony if the driver has more than twice the legal concentration of alcohol in the blood stream. A fourth DUI conviction, regardless of the driver's blood alcohol content, was also made a felony. One of the groups that supported the bill, Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving, said that repeat DUI offenders are responsible for approximately 40% of all DUI-related fatalities.

Penalties have also been increased for other repeat DUI offenders. The mandatory minimum prison term for persons convicted of vehicular homicide who have at least one other DUI conviction on their record has been increased from three years to five years for each death. If the defendant has 2 or more DUI convictions, the minimum sentence is increased to seven years. The sponsor of the legislation said that he hoped the increased penalties will provide a deterrent effect on prior DUI offenders. The governor has said that he will sign the bill.

Anyone who is facing DUI charges may wish to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney for advice on the potential effect of the new laws. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide a useful evaluation of the facts and law of the case and can also explain how the increased penalties may affect sentencing in the event of a conviction.

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