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Pennsylvania strengthens DUI laws

A DUI charge in Pennsylvania carries heavy penalties. Very soon, however, punishments may increase because of new drunk driving laws passed by the Pennsylvania legislature this month. The bill, which has been transferred to the governor for signing, addresses repeat offenders. The bill reclassifies DUI charges from a misdemeanor to a felony for certain offenses. Only Pennsylvania and three other states classify all drunk driving convictions as a misdemeanor.

Drivers arrested for a third time with a blood-alcohol content level of at least .16 percent may be convicted of a felony instead of a misdemeanor. A fourth or subsequent arrest for drunk or drug-impaired driving will also be upgraded to a felony.

These penalties are a measure to encourage compliance with a new law passed last year governing ignition interlock devices. Under that law, drivers could continue to drive and avoid license suspension if they agree to use an ignition interlock device. This equipment requires a driver to breathe into a device that measures their breath-alcohol content and the car is prevented from starting if the content exceeds a specific level.

The bill also covers fatal DUI accidents. A drunk driver who causes an accident death would be sentenced to a minimum prison term of five years for each person killed if they had an earlier drunk driving conviction. Before this law, drivers faced a minimum three-year penalty. The approved bill also enhances penalties for drivers with repeated convictions. Motorists who cause a fatal accident after two DUI convictions will face a minimum seven-year sentence.

This new law compounds the consequences for drunk driving charges. A person pulled over for suspected impaired driving should seek immediate legal representation to help protect their rights and, if possible, avoid these penaties.

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