Until 2003, drivers in Pennsylvania could have a blood alcohol content of up to .1 without breaking the law. When Act 24 was signed, however, the legal limit was lowered to .08. Several other changes were made to drunk driving laws that year.
Three levels of drunk driving
Act 24 set up a tiered approach to DUI charges that included three levels of intoxication:
- Level 1: General Impairment (.08 to .099)
- Level 2: High BAC (.1 to .159)
- Level 3: Highest BAC (.16 and up)
A higher BAC level now results in higher drunk driving penalties. There are also many other factors that can elevate a drunk driving charge including prior convictions for DUI and driving a commercial vehicle. A driver that injures someone during a DUI incident or refuses to submit to chemical testing could be charged for the highest level of DUI even if their BAC is in the lowest category.
Lowest and highest penalties
Under Act 24, a person with a BAC that is just above the legal limit will face no jail time if they have no prior DUIs on their record. However, they could be sentenced to up to six months of probation. With one prior DUI, the sentencing is elevated to between five days and six months in jail. With two prior DUIs, a person could be sentenced to between 10 days and two years in prison.
A person who is found to be driving with a BAC at or above .16 is in the highest category for sentencing. With no prior DUIs, a person in this category would be handed a prison sentence of between 72 hours and six months. One or two prior DUIs could get a person in this category locked up for up to five years.
Chemical testing can be flawed
There is no blood, breath or urine test that is completely foolproof. All chemical testing methods have a margin of error, and that fact is often a key part of drunk driving criminal defense strategy. If you were accused of having a BAC in the highest category, you may be able to argue that the test was flawed.