You Face Jail Time Even for a First Offense

Make no mistake. You face challenging legal concerns for a drunken driving charge, especially as a repeat offender. A DUI lawyer could be the only thing standing between you and as much as seven years in jail.

Depending on your blood alcohol content (BAC), a first-time offense could result in up to six months in jail, with fines as high as $5,000. But, if you're a repeat offender, the consequences are even more severe.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Deana's law, which increases penalties for third and subsequent offenders.

The new law imposes minimum jail terms of one to seven years. However, that length of imprisonment applies to DUI cases involving the highest amounts of alcohol over the legal limit. Additionally, fines can be as high as $15,000 for a felony charge.

Penalties for a DUI: Pennsylvania's Three-Tier System

Pennsylvania implements a three-tiered system to determine penalties for a DUI offense. In addition, the system focuses on the BAC of those driving while impaired. Categories include:

  • general impairment
  • high-rate DUI
  • highest-rate DUI

In addition to the penalties presented below, a judge can order up to 150 hours of community service. It may also require you to attend a DUI victim's impact panel (VIP). This panel aims to help you understand the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving.

Talk with a DUI lawyer at our law firm regardless of your level. They can inform you about the seriousness of the charge and advise you on the best defense strategy.

General Impairment

Drivers with a BAC of at least .08% but less than .10% will face the following penalties.

The most extreme penalty is ten days to seven years for a fourth DUI offense. That fourth offense also escalates from a misdemeanor charge to a felony charge. You will also lose your driver's license for up to 18 months.

You may also be subject to an ignition Interlock system. Once installed, it prohibits an individual under the influence of alcohol from operating the vehicle.

  1st Offense 2nd Offense 3rd Offense 4th Offense
Jail Mandatory 6 months probation 5 days to 6 months 10 to 2 years 10 days to 7 years
Fines $300 $300 to $2,500 $500 to $5,000 $500 to $15,000
License Suspension None 12 months 12 months 18 months


High-Rate DUI

You face increased penalties when driving while intoxicated (DWI) with a BAC of at least .10% but less than .16%. Due to the severity of this offense, you should consult with a DUI defense lawyer immediately.

These penalties also apply to offenders operating a commercial vehicle or those under 21 years old. They also apply to offenders who caused an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage.

An interlock system applies immediately if you operate a motor vehicle with a high-rate DUI. In addition, you can lose driving privileges for up to 18 months.


  1st Offense 2nd Offense 3rd Offense 4th Offense
Jail 48 hours to 6 months 30 days to 6 months 90 days to 5 years 1 year to 7 years
Fines $500 to $5,000 $750 to $5,000 $1,500 to $10,000 $1,500 to $15,000
License Suspension 12 months 12 months 18 months 18 months

Highest Rate DUIs

The last category of penalties includes offenses where the driver had a BAC of .16% or more. An interlock system is mandatory for one year. As a result, it's almost a given that you should work with a DUI lawyer to help address these severe penalties and mount a defense.


  1st Offense 2nd Offense 3rd Offense 4th Offense
Jail 72 hours to 6 months 90 days to 5 years 1 to 5 years 1 to 7 years
Fines $1,000 to $5,000 $1,500 to $10,000 $2,500 to $10,000 $2,500 to $15,000
License Suspension 12 months 18 months 18 months 18 months

Underaged DUI Offenses

Be aware that you also face consequences for a DWI if you are under 21. In that case, the BAC is even lower, at .02% or more. An underage DUI generally carries a penalty of:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • Fines of $500 to $10,000
  • A license suspension of at least 12 months.

However, the specific penalties depend on the driver's record and the circumstances of the case.

Talk to a DUI Lawyer About Pennsylvania's Implied Consent Law

Drivers refusing breathalyzer testing violate the Commonwealth's implied consent law. It basically reflects that you have given your implicit consent to have your blood or breath tested when operating a vehicle.

As a result, if you refuse to submit to a field sobriety test, you face equally severe penalties. For example, a first offense results in a 12-month license suspension. You'll also have to pay $500 to have it reinstated.

A third offense leads to an 18-month license suspension and a $2,000 reinstatement fee.

Equally important, your refusal serves as potential evidence at a DUI trial.

A DUI Lawyer Can Address Misdemeanor Versus Felony Charges

We mentioned that most DUI offenses represent a misdemeanor charge. However, those charges can escalate to felony charges. Typically, that occurs with a third offense and with these conditions:

  • A BAC of .16% or higher
  • Having a passenger under 18
  • When under the influence of a controlled substance

In addition, the implied consent law can lead to a felony charge. The jail time, fines, and other penalties depend on the specific circumstances of the offense. You could face up to seven years in jail, with a hefty fine. We would suggest you devise a defense strategy with the help of a DUI lawyer.

PA's 10-Year Lookback Period

You also need to be aware of the Commonwealth's 10-year lookback period. If arrested for a DUI within ten years of a prior conviction, the law views you as a repeat offender. However, you remain a first-time offender if ten years or more have passed.

Working with a DUI Lawyer: 7 Defense Strategies

For a conviction, the prosecutor must prove you drove a vehicle. They must also prove you were, indeed, under the influence. So, a successful defense has to attack one or both of these assertions.

As a result, some common defenses include these approaches:

  1. Control of the Vehicle: Under PA law, you can only be convicted of a DUI if you have physical control of the vehicle. So, for example, if you are sleeping in your vehicle without the keys in the ignition, you have a defense.
  2. Accuracy of the Breathalizer: Variance items impact the accuracy of a test. Even the breath instrument has an inherent 10% margin of error that can give falsely high readings. A DUI defense lawyer can help identify breath testing issues as a valid defense.
  3. Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause: The police officer must have a solid reason for stopping you in the first place. They can't pull you over without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The State must prove all evidence complies with the Fourth Amendment. Otherwise, any evidence may be inadmissible.
  4. Checkpoints: There are requirements for checkpoints in Pennsylvania. If unmet, any evidence becomes inadmissible.
  5. Miranda Rights: Any statements you make can be suppressed if the arresting officer fails to read your rights.
  6. Sobriety Tests: Studies show that these tests are only 60% – 70% accurate. Additionally, they are can be invalid for individuals with disabilities, those who are overweight, or older adults.
  7. Reasonable Explanations: Sometimes, it only appears you were driving under the influence when there were other explanations.

Even if found guilty, your DUI lawyer may help reduce the severity of your outcome. For example, they might negotiate a reduction to a non-DUI offense. Pleading to a lesser charge can be quite common in DUI cases.

Top DUI Lawyers in Montgomery and Bucks County, PA

Our Montgomery County and Bucks County lawyers are some of the best. The Best Lawyers in America recognized 11 High Swartz attorneys in its latest edition.

You can count on our criminal defense lawyers to provide the best legal representation for a DUI arrest.

DUI Offenses Attorneys

John S. Han

John Han | Criminal Defense lawyer | Greater Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Criminal defense attorney John S. Han represents clients facing investigation and prosecution by both State and Federal Law Enforcement authorities for felony criminal violations.

Michael A. Luongo

Michael A. Luongo business litigation attorney in High Swartz's doylestown law office

Bucks county Business Litigation attorney Michael A. Luongo also practices personal injury, criminal defense, and in our PA municipal practice.

Shari R. Gelfont Williams

shari gelfont williams at high swartz llp doylestown law office

Bucks County Attorney with 25+ years' experience in litigation with a focus on family law, estate planning, and business disputes.

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