Pennsylvania residents may recall hearing about a recent ruling by a Dauphin County judge, where a DUI charge was thrown out because of concerns about the reliability and accuracy of breathalyzers during DUI stops. As a result of the ruling, the Pennsylvania State Police are temporarily substituting blood tests for breathalyzers when stopping drivers on suspicion of a DUI.

Blood tests could mean more DUI arrests?

A spokesperson for the State Police says he is aware that the judge's ruling may still be overturned but says the decision was the cause for a change in policy. Drivers stopped on suspicion of a DUI will now undergo a blood test, and the results will be shipped to the nearest hospital for processing. Many motorists may have concern about the unreliability of the past breathalyzers, and therefore concern that the flawed device may have resulted in unnecessary arrests.

The spokesperson also notes that any change in process is likely to vary by county. Some counties do not have nearby hospitals, and some hospitals may not always have a phlebotomist available to immediately analyze the results.

However, a person able to analyze blood draw results is commonly available on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights since they are the busiest nights of the week for DUI stops. However, the high number of stops does not always reflect the number of drunk drivers, as police do pull over drivers that are not under the influence.

A member of the Pennsylvania DUI Association favors the change. He says that in addition to detecting alcohol, blood tests are capable of detecting other drugs in a driver's system. This means blood tests are likely to result in a significant increase in the number of DUI arrests.

Pennsylvania has an implied consent law. This means drivers who are arrested for a DUI must take either a breath, blood or urine test. Refusal to do so may result in a one-year license suspension.

Current Pennsylvania DUI laws

DUI penalties in Pennsylvania vary based on blood alcohol content level and the number of prior offenses. There are currently three levels of DUI in Pennsylvania:

  • General impairment
  • High BAC
  • Highest BAC

Drivers with a BAC of 0.08 to 0.099 percent are included in the general impairment level. However, certain drivers may be subject to high BAC penalties even if their actual BAC puts them at the general impairment level. These include:

  • Minors
  • Commercial drivers
  • School vehicle drivers

Additionally, a driver considered generally impaired but who causes an accident that damages property or causes injury to another may receive higher penalties.

The high BAC category is for drivers with a BAC between 0.10 and 0.159 percent. The term of license suspension, fines and potential jail time all increase at the high BAC level.

The highest BAC penalties are for drivers with a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher, or those found with drugs other than alcohol in their system. Drivers who refuse a BAC test automatically fall into the highest BAC category.

Drivers at all levels have the option of receiving alcohol treatment. An educational course in alcohol safety is also required for first-time and second-time offenders.

In addition to the hefty fines, license suspension and the potential jail time at any level, a DUI conviction also comes with a significant loss of freedom. Installation of an ignition interlock is usually required, and a suspended license often makes it difficult to get to work.

Pennsylvania drivers charged with a DUI need a skilled DUI attorney on their side. The attorney can provide high quality representation and help by investigating the charges, reviewing the evidence, filing motions on behalf of the accused and also by attending hearings with the client. A person who is charged should be aware of their rights and the best way to handle each step of the criminal court process.