Comments Off on New DUI Concern in PA: “Sleep Driving”
The trial of Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy, got under way in New York today. Kennedy is accused of Driving Under the Influence of a drug. The drug in question is the sleep aide, Ambien, which she was prescribed. Her defense in the case is that she mistakenly took the pill believing that it was something else, an involuntary intoxication defense.
Kennedy is not the first to be charged with this type of offense. Cases are popping up all over the country where people have taken Ambien and went to bed and woke up at a police station or in a hospital having no memory of ever getting behind the wheel of a car.
In Pennsylvania, “sleep driving” is a growing concern and has led to numerous DUI arrests. “Sleep driving” may or may not be defense to a criminal offense for DUI. There have been a few instances in Pennsylvania where an involuntary intoxication defense has been successful after evidence was presented that the defendant consumed Ambien and involuntarily drove their vehicle but the defense is not one that is widely accepted across the state.
The bottom line is that people need to be aware that when they are legally taking a sleep aide like Ambien or Lunesta, they are potentially putting themselves at risk that they could end up in a situation where they are “sleep driving” and end up with a DUI arrest and conviction.
Comments Off on DUI LAW: Suspension vs. Ignition Interlock
The Pennsylvania state legislature has been trying to pass a law that would require first time Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenders to have an ignition interlock device placed on their car. Currently ignition interlock devices are not required until after a second conviction for DUI. Ignition Interlock devices require the driver to blow into a machine on their steering wheel and produce a negative reading for alcohol before the car can become operable. The general public likely would not have a problem with first time DUI offenders having to equip their vehicles with this device before it can become operable. Clearly this would prevent a lot of accidents and deaths, which is the purpose of the law. But what the legislature should also consider is swapping out one first time DUI punishment for another.
Currently, a person convicted of a first offense DUI in Pennsylvania with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .10 or higher will lose their license for one year. A loss of license would be detrimental to most people who live and work in Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County or any of the other suburban counties that surround Philadelphia where public transportation is limited. If the idea is to protect the public from people who drive drunk, ignition interlock would address that concern more than a license suspension could. Where a license suspension does not physically prevent a person from getting into their car and driving intoxicated, an ignition interlock device would do just that and allow the person to continue working and take care of their basic needs.
Under current Pennsylvania law, a first time DUI offender with a BAC or .10 or higher may be eligible for a occupation limited license (work license) after serving 2 months of their one year suspension. Obviously it is better to be able to drive to work for 10 months of your suspension rather than the full 12, but can most people who are working to support a family afford not to be able to drive to their place of employment for a full month? Again swapping out a license suspension for an ignition interlock requirement would both protect society and alleviate the stress on the first time DUI offender.
Comments Off on Will Pennsylvania Adopt a New Legal Limit for DUI?
Recently the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the legal limit for Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) that would constitute a criminal offense for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) be lowered from .08 to .05. Currently every state sets their legal limit at .08, including Pennsylvania, but it seems probable that most, if not all, states will eventually accept this recommendation based on past precedent. The last time the NTSB made a recommendation to lower the legal limit for DUI offense from .10 to .08, all states eventually accepted that recommendation with Pennsylvania enacting the .08 limit in 2003.
Comments Off on DUI Penalties in Pennsylvania: Too Harsh or Just Right?
In Pennsylvania, DUIs are classified as a misdemeanor offense, but the consequences and penalties of a DUI conviction are more severe than most other misdemeanor offenses and some felony offenses. A DUI arrest and conviction has an effect on a individual that could effect every aspect of that person’s life. The two primary reasons for this are mandatory jail sentences and mandatory license suspensions.
A person with no prior record who gets convicted of a DUI will likely face at least 3 days of incarceration and a one year loss of license. Both of these factors would play a significant role in a person’s ability to continue to work at their job and provide for their families. Even if a person were fortunate enough to have a job that would allow them to have time off to serve their jail sentence, not having a license for a year would be a hurdle that most people, especially those who live in the suburbs, would not be able to overcome. A one year loss of license for most people would certainly put their jobs in jeopardy if they rely on their car to get back and forth to work. There are also family concerns associated with a loss of license. Not being able to drive your kids to doctor’s appointments or pick them up from school certainly would cause hardships for a family.
To put this in perspective, a person with no prior record who is charged with misdemeanor Simple Assault on their spouse, which many would agree is amore egregious offense, would not face nearly the same consequences. If convicted, that person may only receive a probationary sentence. In some situations, the District Attorney may agree to drop the charge altogether in exchange for the person participating in a domestic violence class. Aside from participating in some programs, the charged individual is often times allowed to continue on with their life and career with little interruptions.
The reality is that the criminal justice system punishes DUI offenders based not on what they did but based on what they are trying to prevent, which is the unfortunate deaths of many innocent people at the hands of drunk drivers. Most people would agree that someone who gets behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated and kills someone should be dealt with severely by the criminal justice system, but the real dilemma that deserves considerable thought is what to do with the individual who consumed more than they should at the office Christmas party or dinner out with friends who happens to get stopped at a checkpoint or pulled over for speeding. Do they deserve the consequences they will likely have to endure? Consequences that people who have committed more egregious offenses will likely avoid. Only the public can decide this through their elected representatives. For now, the public has decided that the answer is yes.
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