"What is going to be expected of me? Am I going to have to go to jail? What happens if this is not my first offense?"

These are among some very common questions you might be asking yourself if you have been arrested on a DUI charge. At Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC, our lawyers have the knowledge and experience to answer these questions and the skill to advocate relentlessly on your behalf throughout every stage of the legal process. We will provide you with a clear explanation of your rights and conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to your arrest and the actions taken after it.

If you have been charged with a DUI and are concerned about the consequences afterward, contact us today at our Harrisburg law offices to discuss our ability to provide you with the high-quality DUI defense you need.

Pennsylvania's DUI Laws

The Pennsylvania legislature has been cracking down on DUI cases. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) necessary to receive a charge of DUI or ARD are .02 percent for a juvenile offender, .08 percent for an adult, and .04 percent for a commercial freight hauler or bus operator. Moreover, a recent law, passed in 2004, increased the penalties for a first-time DUI offense with a BAC of .16 percent from two days to three days in jail. Subsequent convictions within 10 years also result in 90 days in jail.

Related Factors

In addition to your DUI charge, there may be other factors related to your arrest. We will address all of these issues head on and will engage in a full investigation of the traffic stop. We will also file motions to dismiss or reduce the charges against you, attend all court appearances with you or on your behalf, contest all related traffic violations, and represent you at license revocation hearings and throughout the entire license reinstatement process.

Bail And Preliminary Arraignment

As with the arrest for any crime, such as DUI, in Pennsylvania, an accused is afforded the right to bail. In very limited cases, bail may be denied, such as when the accused is subject to charges for a first degree murder. However, in most court cases in Pennsylvania, bail is often granted. Bail is determined by a judge, known as a magisterial district judge, that will assess factors such as the accused's residence (are they a resident of the Commonwealth or some other state?), their familial status (do they have a wife and kids located in the area?), their employment status, the risk to re-offend, and the possibility of flight from the jurisdiction from which the charges arise.

Notice Of Preliminary Hearing

The magisterial district court from where the charges arise will provide notice to the accused's address of the date and time when a preliminary hearing will occur. The notice will contain the complaint and probable cause affidavit (if any) attached to the notice. The complaint spells out the date and time the incident occurred, the affiant or person bringing the allegation, and the identifying information the accused, such as "white/male" and SSN and/or Pennsylvania driver's license number.

A complaint may also have a statement by the officer attached to it, known as the "probable cause affidavit." The probable cause affidavit sets forth those facts upon which the affiant is relying to cite the specific crime(s) against the accused. It contains a short narrative of what is specifically alleged to have happened that led the officer to cite an individual for a crime. In the instance of a DUI, it may include:

  • The reason for a vehicle stop (e.g., weaving and swerving)
  • The conduct of the accused in responding to the officer (e.g., fumbled for license, appeared disheveled, had odor of alcohol)
  • The specific facts that lead the officer to effectuate an arrest (e.g., the accused was unable to complete the field sobriety tests)
  • What occurred after the arrest (e.g., was a blood, breath, or urine analysis requested and what result?)

Preliminary Hearing

In Pennsylvania, an accused has an absolute right to a hearing before a magisterial district judge, known as a "preliminary hearing." At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth (most often the police officer bringing the charges) will have to provide evidence sufficient to render the magisterial district judge in the belief that there is a prima facie (pronounced prime-a-fashee) case against the accused — in other words, that it appears that a crime has occurred and that the accused has had some hand in committing the offense for which he or she has been charged on the complaint.

This standard of proof is the lowest, in sharp contrast to the standard required at a trial of "beyond a reasonable doubt." One may ask, if it's so low, then why bother with a hearing?

A preliminary hearing is the first opportunity for your counsel to ask questions of the affiant (officer) regarding the circumstances and reasons for the initial detention, roadside interrogation, FSTs performed, statements provided by an accused, and the type of test later performed to confirm the presence of a controlled or alcoholic substance in the blood. It is crucial that such a hearing occur in order to properly assist and gauge an accused's case as they head into the next level of the process.

The hearing may unearth difficulties in the Commonwealth's case relating the circumstances of the stop (see our discussions on pretextual stops and DUI arrests for information regarding DUI checkpoints). Or, it may also provide useful information for a defense expert that will assist the accused's counsel in the preparation of testimony at trial. (Learn more about the role of the expert in DUI cases.)

In any case, the ability of counsel to see and hear a more complete explanation as the facts that surround a criminal case is essential to a proper defense.

Formal Arraignment

Following a preliminary hearing, if the charges are not dismissed for lack of evidence, the case is sent to the appropriate court of common pleas for a "formal arraignment." This procedure provides the accused with the specific charges that the district attorney's office will be pursuing at trial. It sets the timeframes for specific matters, such as a request for discovery or the deadline for the filing of pre-trial motions, and allows defense counsel and the prosecutor's office to discuss a possible resolution to the charges short of a trial. In some instances, a defendant may avoid both formal arraignment and trial by signing up for an ARD program offered by the district attorney's office.


In Pennsylvania, a trial is the final stage of the process in determining an accused's guilt or innocence. The Commonwealth must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the accused has committed all acts contained in an information document.

It is essential that an accused seek legal representation prior to this stage in order to properly explore any issues relating to evidentiary issues, witness concerns, and procedural issues. Please contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC, regarding your case analysis.

Before You Enter A Guilty Plea, Do Your Homework

Some clients prefer to resolve their criminal charges quickly and without the need for a lengthy trial process that will cost the client additional time, lawyer fees and possibly court costs. After a consultation with an attorney at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC, regarding the complete panoply of defenses to your matter, you may wish to consider this option. It is not wise to blindly throw yourself on the mercy of the court without having first reviewed with your attorney all available sentencing options, mitigation possibilities and possible court demeanor to your charge.

Sentencing Options

Many defendants say to themselves, "What's the difference? I'm guilty and I will most likely go to jail. What does it matter that I don't have an attorney? Won't the judge think I'm hiding something if I get an attorney?"

The answer is, quite frankly, " Only a fool hath himself for an attorney" (Abraham Lincoln) .

In Pennsylvania, there are many sentencing options open to judges for any particular defendant, based upon the defendant's age, the type of offense, his or her work history, the defendant's familial relationships and his or her prior criminal history, if any. An example of this is the Intermediate Punishment (IP) option that allows judges to craft a sentence that would impose a house arrest sentence, rather than total incarceration in a jail or work release center. However, an IP is not typically given in every courtroom or in every county.

That is why it is important to find an attorney with a facility for the criminal justice system to help you navigate the tumultuous and precarious legal system which may be endemic to a specific jurisdiction. Judges are used to and accept that defendants will have legal counsel. It makes the judge's job and the district attorney's job a lot easier if you do.

Mitigation Possibilities

We once had a client that appeared for sentencing in a DUI case reeking of alcohol and wearing a Budweiser t-shirt. Needless to say, our attorney had the client promptly remove the t-shirt, turn it inside out and backward to hide it from the judge's eyes. He also had the case continued to the afternoon so they could sober up and get some mouthwash!

This is not the way to mitigate or lessen the impact of a criminal misdeed in the eyes of the court. In a DUI case, for example, judges are looking for signs that the defendant has accepted responsibility for his or her actions and taken responsibility for his or her own recovery. A judge will be imposing sentence for three distinct reasons:

  1. To punish (retribution)
  2. To rehabilitate
  3. To protect society

If you show up to court on the date of sentencing having completed a drug and alcohol course; having done a fair amount of community service; and with some or all of the money for court fees, fines, costs and even restitution, if any, the court will note that you have accepted responsibility, are not in need of further rehabilitation, and have seen fit to punish yourself by committing to complete community service on your own. If anyone deserves a break, it's you, not the guy wearing a "Bud" T-shirt and smelling of mash.

Get Solid Advice First

The long and short of a guilty plea is not to go it alone. Consult with an attorney at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC, to lessen the impact of your decision. Being punished once by a judge is nothing compared to the amount of punishment you will give yourself for finding out that you did the wrong thing by blindly throwing yourself on the mercy of the court.

Learn more about DUI charges on our Criminal Law Blog.

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Harrisburg, PA 17112

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