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DUI Attorneys in Harrisburg

Protecting Your Rights, Freedom & Driving Privileges

If you have been charged with a drinking and driving offense in Pennsylvania, it is critical that you remain silent and that you fully cooperate with the police, as anything you say or do may be used by the prosecution and the police to establish that you had a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the 0.08 limit at the time of your DUI stop. A conviction on these charges could result in life-altering consequences, including significant fines, possible jail time, and the loss of your driver's license.

Contact Shaffer & Engle today for skilled legal support and zealous advocacy if you or a family member has been charged with a DUI. You have rights; we will work diligently to protect them by providing you with the highest-quality representation possible.

Decades of Experience with DUI Defense

The DUI defense lawyers at our firm have over 65 years of combined legal experience implementing effective case strategies on behalf of clients charged with drunk driving.

We can represent you at every stage of the legal process, including:

  • All court appearances with you, or on your behalf
  • Full investigation of the traffic stop and charge
  • Motions to dismiss or reduce charges
  • Related traffic violations defense
  • License reinstatement process
  • License revocation hearings

Heightened Repercussions for DUI Conviction

The consequences of a DUI conviction are serious. In February 2004, the Pennsylvania legislature tightened the guidelines for DUI charges. The new law has increased the jail time for a first-time DUI with a BAC of 0.16 percent from two days to three days in jail. Additionally, subsequent convictions within 10 years now result in 90 days in jail, as opposed to 30 days under the old law. The BAC necessary to receive a charge of DUI or ARD are 0.02 percent for a juvenile offender, 0.08 percent for an adult, and 0.04 percent for a commercial freight hauler or bus operator.

Our attorneys have an in-depth understanding of the laws that relate to DUI stops, testing, and arrests. We will effectively represent you in your drinking and driving case.

Actual Physical Control

The concept of "actual physical control" involves control of the movements of either the machinery of a motor vehicle or of the management of the vehicle itself, without a requirement that the entire vehicle be in motion.

To determine whether a person was in “actual physical control of a vehicle,” these should be considered:

  • Where the vehicle was located
  • Whether or not the motor was running
  • Any additional evidence proving the defendant drove the vehicle

A determination of actual physical control of a vehicle, as required to sustain a DUI conviction, is based upon the totality of the circumstances. The fact that the car is not moving is not dispositive, however, of whether the appellant is "in actual physical control." In a DUI prosecution, the Commonwealth can use wholly circumstantial evidence to establish that a defendant was driving, operating, or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.

Showing that an intoxicated defendant started a parked car, without more evidence, is not enough to prove actual physical control necessary to sustain a DUI conviction; the Commonwealth must show some additional facts to illustrate that the defendant was a danger to public safety. In order to establish that the defendant was in "actual physical control" of the automobile, the Commonwealth must show something more than the defendant behind the wheel, with the motor running; there must be evidence to support an inference indicating that the defendant drove the vehicle while he or she was intoxicated.

For example, a defendant may be convicted of the offense of driving while under the influence of alcohol when he or she proceeded downhill on a motorcycle without starting the engine, weaving the cycle from side to side, because with the exception of starting the engine, the defendant's actions were no different, and no less dangerous, than if the engine had been started.

At Shaffer & Engle, we have successfully challenged many cases on the basis that the defendant was not in "actual physical control" of the vehicle. Call our DUI lawyers in Harrisburg at (717) 268-4287 to discuss your case in more detail.

The Location of the Offense Is Crucial

Since driving under the influence of alcohol is defined in the Vehicle Code as a "serious traffic offense," the offense must be committed on a highway or a trafficway. An essential element of the DUI statute is that the vehicle be operated on a highway or trafficway while the operator is under the influence of alcohol. The key term used to specify the type of travel for a highway or trafficway is if the path is and can be used or open to the public.

There is authority that a university parking lot that is restricted for the use of properly registered student vehicles and designed for the parking of these vehicles is not open to the public for the purposes of vehicular traffic, thus, is not a trafficway within the meaning of the Vehicle Code, so that a charge of driving while under the influence which took place in such a parking lot must be dismissed.

What Constitutes Being "Guilty" of DUI?

The accused must be intoxicated or under the influence of intoxicating liquor to be guilty of driving while intoxicated

One is intoxicated when he or she does not have the normal use of his or her physical and mental faculties:

  • By reason of the use of intoxicating liquor
  • When he or she is affected by liquor to the extent that it is less safe for him or her to operate the automobile than it would be if he or she were not so affected
  • When, by reason of such use, he or she is incapable of driving with the care essential to the safety of occupants of the vehicle and others

Under some specific statutes, however, proof that the defendant was "under the influence" or "intoxicated" is not required for a conviction of driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle when one has a specified blood alcohol content. However, the test whether a motorist is driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor is not his or her fitness or unfitness to drive, but whether he or she has imbibed to an extent that his or her mental or physical condition is deleteriously affected.

What Are My Miranda Rights?

The "Miranda rights" is a common law rule set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, in which the Supreme Court held that absent a suspect's intelligent waiver of their pertinent constitutional rights, the suspect, before any "custodial interrogation," must be warned in clear and unequivocal terms of numerous things.

The suspect needs to be warned that:

  • They have the right to consult with an attorney prior to or during such interrogation
  • If they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent them
  • That any statements made may be used against them
  • They have a right to remain silent

"Custody" is defined as any time one has been deprived of his or her freedom of action in any significant way, while "interrogation" is defined as questioning initiated by a law enforcement officer for the purposes of eliciting a response. The courts of Pennsylvania and other states have repeatedly held that an ordinary traffic stop is not "custody." Therefore, such rights do not apply to motorists stopped for routine traffic offenses who are asked to complete a set of field sobriety tests or a portable breath test (PBT).

What Is Probable Cause & How Does it Apply to Me?

On June 19, 2006, the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined under the amended Motor Vehicle Code that probable cause is no longer required for an officer to stop a vehicle. The new statute requires only that an officer have a "reasonable suspicion" that a Motor Vehicle Code violation is occurring before stopping any vehicle on the roads of the Commonwealth.

Now, the police do not need to show that they possessed some reasonably trustworthy information that would lead a prudent person to believe that a crime has occurred. In fact, in order to show reasonable suspicion, all the police must have is little more than mere suspicion or an educated "hunch."

Please note that if you have been arrested for DUI or another drinking and driving-related offense, your most important step is to remain silent and cooperate with the police. Under Pennsylvania drunk driving laws, anything you say or do may be used by the prosecution and the police to establish that you had a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the 0.08 alcohol concentration limit at the time of the stop. A drunk driving conviction in Pennsylvania may result in significant fines, jail time, and the revocation of your driver's license.

What Does it Mean to Be “in Actual Physical Control” of a Vehicle?

The alcohol-related operating offenses of the Vehicle Code provide that a person is driving or operating a vehicle, but also includes circumstances where the offender is deemed to be in the "actual physical control of the movement or operation of" a vehicle. The term "operate" as used in the DUI statute has been construed as to require evidence that the offender had actual physical control of either the machinery of the vehicle or management of the vehicle's movement, but not necessarily evidence that the vehicle was in motion [Com v. McFadden, 377 Pa.Super. 4534, 547 A.2d 774 (1988)].

For instance, a suspect could be deemed to be in actual physical control under circumstances where the vehicle was parked with the engine running [Com v. Owen, 397 Pa.Super. 507, 580 A.2d 412 (1990)]. The Pennsylvania courts have determined that the officer may infer from a totality of the circumstances as to whether a suspect was in actual physical control of a vehicle. Evidence may include that the vehicle is or was running and whether there were indicators that the motorist had driven to the location at some point prior to the officer's investigation.

The best advice for a motorist who is intent on "sleeping it off" is to shut the vehicle's engine off, remove the keys from the ignition, and retire to the back of the vehicle — away from the driver's seat.

How Can Police Tell if Someone Is DUI?

There are some telltale signs that the police often believe are indicators that someone is driving impaired. There are certain ways in which a vehicle can be driven that can serve as an indicator to police that a motorist is driving impaired, according to the information supplied by the Pennsylvania DUI Association. The Association, with assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PADOT) and the Traffic Institute for Police Sciences, has compiled a number of indicators that suggest a driver is impaired.

There have been 20 cues developed to assist police in identifying nighttime intoxicated drivers. The cues were developed from interviews with law enforcement specialists, an analysis of more than 1,000 DUI arrest reports, and field experience based on the correlation of cues in more than 600 patrol stops with motorists' blood alcohol content levels. According to the Association, "the cues represent the most systematically developed method available for visually predicting whether a vehicle operated at night is being driven by a DUI driver or a sober driver."

According to the association, the number following each cue is "the probability that the driver displaying that cue has a BAC equal to or greater than .1 percent. For instance, the 65 for the first cue, turning with wide radius, means that chances are 65 out of 100 that the driver who turns with a wide radius at night will have a BAC equal to or greater than .1 percent" (Please note that at the time this study was conducted, the BAC level at which a driver is presumed to be legally incapable of safe was .10 percent; that level has been reduced in Pennsylvania to .08 percent).

Certainly, as with any general assertion of a BAC level due to the exhibition of a cue, there are always exceptions to the norm. As noted in the study, one may have a 40 percent chance of having a BAC of 0.1 percent at night if the motorist "slowly responds to traffic signals." However, a 40 percent chance does not, in and of itself, equate to a "reasonable suspicion" that a driver is incapable of safe driving

Please keep in mind that an arresting police officer conducting a traffic stop must have a reasonable suspicion and not an "inarticulable hunch" that some violation of the Motor Vehicle Code has occurred. The officer cannot and should never simply quote a study for his or her reasoning for pulling someone over at night.

What Are 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 0.02 percent for a juvenile offender, 0.08 percent for an adult, and 0.04 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 0.16 percent from two days to three days in jail. Subsequent convictions within 10 years also result in 90 days in jail.

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.

What Can I Expect Regarding Bail?

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.

What Is a 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 of 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)
  • What occurred after the arrest (e.g., was a blood, breath, or urine analysis requested and what was the result?)
  • 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 Is a 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 occurs 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. 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.

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.

What Happens at a 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.

What Happens at Trial?

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.

Being Under the Influence of Narcotic Drugs

Within the meaning of a statute making it an offense to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of narcotic drugs, a person is under the influence of such drugs when he or she has taken a sufficient amount of them to cause him or her to lose the normal control of her or his mental or bodily faculties, or both, to the extent that there is an appreciable impairment of both or either of those faculties. Stated another way, if a motorist is under the influence of a drug to the extent that it impairs the motorist's ability, in any manner, to operate his or her vehicle, the motorist is in a "drugged condition" and guilty of driving while intoxicated.

The legal use of a prescription drug is no defense and generally, there is no requirement to show intent in a prosecution for driving while under the influence of drugs. In addition, a prescription drug user may be convicted where he or she also consumed intoxicating liquor, the drugs making him or her more susceptible to the influence of the liquor.

Note that it is impossible to properly define and classify every element of the DUI statute in Pennsylvania as it relates to an individual's case. That is why it is essential to have an attorney with the knowledge and experience to defend your case review the criminal complaint, incident report, and any charging documents supplied by the police in support of the case against you.

At Shaffer & Engle, we take the time to properly investigate your case, review the charges, interpret the Commonwealth's case against you, and provide a solid foundation and recommendation to alleviate the pain and anxiety that invade your life when you've been charged with a DUI. Don't let the situation handle you — you handle the situation!

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)

ARD is a pre-trial diversionary program that allows first-time offenders (and in certain extreme cases, second-time offenders) to complete a probationary period, pay fees and court costs, complete community service, undergo counseling, and complete the requirements of the Alcohol Safety School. At the conclusion of these, the individual's record is expunged (wiped clean).

The benefits of such a program are that the offender does not go to jail and there is a reduced license suspension period for Class C drivers (cars). In general, a first-time DUI offender would be looking at the possibility of up to 72 hours in jail and the loss of driving privileges for a year. If the ARD program is acceptable, the offender would not go to jail and receive only 30 to 60 days of suspension.

ARD requirements vary from county to county. Most counties, such as Dauphin, Cumberland, York, and Schuylkill require a period of probation (usually 12 months), completion of community service, and the payment of fees and court assessments (approximately $1,000).

Contact a Skilled DUI Lawyer in Harrisburg

Timing is critical in drunk driving cases. By neglecting to hire a knowledgeable DUI attorney in Harrisburg, you may be compromising the outcome of your case. If you or a family member has been charged with DUI or a related alcohol offense, contact the legal team at Shaffer & Engle immediately. Our Harrisburg DUI attorneys offer free consultations and can help you with all your legal needs. We also serve clients throughout Dauphin County.

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