DUI Overhaul Signed Into Law

Filed under: DUI by Contributor @ October 29, 2014

We recently told you that Pennsylvania’s legislature was on the cusp of passing an important amendment to correct commonly known problems with the Commonwealth’s DUI law.  Well, on Monday SB 1239 was signed into law by Governor Corbett as Act 1189 of 2014.  Below are three significant changes worth noting.

As we described in detail in these two previous posts, here and here, the new law corrects the “Musau Problem” by removing the word “notwithstanding” from 75 P.A.C.S.A. 3803(b)(1).  This change will make all 2nd time DUIs after a chemical test refusal a misdemeanor of the first degree with a maximum incarceration period of five years.  Previously, the word “notwithstanding” had created an interesting paradox within the statute whereby a second DUI with chemical refusal was graded as a misdemeanor of the first degree but at the same time capped to an available punishment of six months.  This change is effective immediately.

Section 3806(b), the recidivist sentencing provision, has also been amended.  The law closes what has been considered a major loophole in applying the recidivist sentencing provision, section 3806, under the previous DUI law.  In Commonwealth v. Haig, 981 A.2d 902 (2009), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had held that behavior subsequent to the DUI violation in a specific case was beyond the scope of the prior offense provision during sentencing.  Under the former model, an individual could be convicted as a first-time offender on multiple DUI arrests, even if those offenses were committed after the violation in the case under judgment.  The new language shifts the relevant recidivism time-period to the ten-year period prior to sentencing—thus making sure that any and all DUI convictions in that span will be counted towards the prior offense grading and penalty scheme. The additional phrase “whether or not judgment of sentence has been imposed for the violation” has also been inserted. This language avoids any ambiguity for the interval where there is a conviction, but final judgment of sentence is deferred or the cases are consolidated.  In layman’s terms, this means that drivers convicted on multiple DUI offenses will be sentenced to much harsher penalties, even if they committed the multiple offenses within a very short period of time.  This provision is effective 60 days from Monday, October 27.

The new law also contains what is commonly called the “York County fix.”  This provision is directed primarily at York County residents who, due to a processing error at the York County Clerk of Courts Office, have been receiving administrative suspension notices on DUI convictions dating back all the way to 2004.  However, it is worth noting that other county offices, including Philadelphia, similarly failed to provide PENNDOT the proper information so as to suspend licenses in a timely manner for those convicted of DUIs.  The “York County Fix,” inserted by York County state legislator Kevin Schreiber, makes some 15,000 individuals with belated license suspensions eligible for limited occupational licenses.  This provision is retroactive as to January 1, 2004, and is effective immediately.

To better understand how this new law may affect your case, contact a Fairlie and Lippy attorney today.

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