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DUI Frequently Asked Questions

Answered By Our Harrisburg DUI Attorneys

At Shaffer & Engle, we have over 65 years of experience representing individuals who have been arrested throughout Central Pennsylvania on DUI charges. We know your rights; let us help you protect them.

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 Shaffer & Engle Help Me?

At the DUI defense law firm of Shaffer & Engle, our Harrisburg DUI lawyers will vigorously defend your rights at every phase of a drunk driving charge, from the DUI arrest to the final disposition of your case. We will work diligently to keep you fully informed throughout the entire process.

Our attorneys have over 65 years of combined legal experience skillfully defending people against charges of underage drinking, DUI, DUS, and other drunk driving-related charges. We have helped hundreds of people face these charges, and we can help you.

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.

If you have any more questions or concerns about DUI law, your situation, or how our Harrisburg DUI lawyers can help you, call (717) 268-4287 and schedule a free consultation.

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