Pennsylvania DUI Attorney | DUI Charges | Rehmeyer & Allatt (2024)

Pennsylvania DUI Attorney | DUI Charges | Rehmeyer & Allatt (1)

As a criminal defense attorney here in State College, Pennsylvania, Julian Allatt is often asked by friends and clients what they should do if they are stopped for DUI. Answering this question requires a basic understanding of the “anatomy” of a DUI stop — how it works, what the police officer is looking for and what your rights are at every stage in the encounter. First, a brief word on driving under the influence.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is dangerous. We at Rehmeyer & Allatt encourage you to have fun, but to be safe by not getting behind the wheel after you have been drinking. As a practical matter, however, we recognize that people often drive after they have been drinking, hence the large number of DUIs charged here in Centre County and particularly in State College, Pennsylvania.

The law recognizes this, too. Criminal charges for DUI in Pennsylvania are structured on a three-tier system based on the amount of alcohol in an operator’s blood referred to as blood alcohol content (BAC), with increased penalties for higher BACs and second, third or subsequent offenses. If you have been drinking and are pulled over by police, how can you best protect yourself under Pennsylvania law?

Understanding The Three Parts Of A Traffic Stop

To answer this question, you must understand some basic concepts from the law of criminal procedure and how they bear on the three essential components of a roadside DUI stop. The three components of a roadside DUI stop are:

  1. The initial roadside stop
  2. Roadside testing, including the PBT (portable breath test) and SFSTs (standard field sobriety tests)
  3. The arrest and post-arrest testing (blood or breath)

This page discusses the first of the three components. Follow the links above to read more about a DUI stop in Pennsylvania.

The Roadside Stop

When you are pulled over in your vehicle by police, this action constitutes a “seizure” of your person. The term seizure in this context comes directly from the text of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. A seizure occurs when an individual’s liberty is restrained and he or she is not free to leave. A roadside stop is a seizure because the police have temporarily detained you and you are not free to leave until the police officer concludes the encounter.

For a seizure to be reasonable, the police must have some legal basis to stop you. A police officer may stop you based on a reasonable suspicion that a crime or motor vehicle code violation has occurred, which permits a temporary detention until the officer confirms or dispels the suspicion through investigation.

The officer may also stop you based on probable cause to believe a crime or motor vehicle code violation has occurred in the officer’s presence, which permits a lengthier detention or even arrest, depending on the crime. It is not uncommon for the initial basis for the stop to be reasonable suspicion (a lesser standard), which then turns into probable cause (a higher standard) following the officer’s investigation.

In DUI cases, motorists are rarely pulled over for DUI. In the vast majority of cases, the initial basis for the seizure of your vehicle is a motor vehicle code infraction — a moving violation, a broken headlight or taillight, expired registration, etc. When police officers observe a motorist commit a moving violation, they now have probable cause to stop that vehicle for a violation of the vehicle code. This violation is rarely related directly to DUI although, as a practical matter, the officer may just be using the violation as a legal basis to stop your vehicle to investigate for DUI.

The first thing you can do to protect yourself from a DUI is to ensure that your vehicle is inspected, registered and in good working order. Expired tags, broken taillights, tinted windows, obstructions in front of your license plate or hanging from your rearview mirror, etc., all increase the likelihood that you will be pulled over.

The second thing you can do is be careful on the road. Wear your seatbelt. Drive no more than 5 mph over the speed limit. Be careful with your high beams. Use your turn signals well in advance of turns. Come to a complete stop at stop signs and flashing red lights. Proceed with caution at flashing yellow. Don’t tailgate. Try to be a perfect driver.

Nevertheless, even if you strictly follow these guidelines and the rules of the road, police on patrol for DUI drivers will try to find any way possible to pull you over. Once you are pulled over, the real investigation begins.

Do You Appear To Be Drunk?

When police have you lawfully pulled over at the roadside following a traffic infraction, particularly if the stop is in the evening, on the weekends or at night when people typically are drinking, your failure to “properly use a turn signal” is the least of their concerns. When the officer approaches your vehicle, he or she is immediately looking for telltale signs of alcohol or controlled substance use. If the officer makes these observations, this transforms the stop from a simple traffic ticket to a DUI investigation. The telltale signs the officer is looking for are typically:

  1. Bloodshot/glassy eyes
  2. Slurred speech
  3. Fumbling to retrieve your license and registration
  4. Smell of alcohol or controlled substance (typically marijuana)
  5. Admissions from the suspect
  6. Visible alcohol/controlled substances/contraband in the vehicle

Remember, the officer is observing you at all times during the roadside encounter while you are seated in your vehicle. Pull over in a safe area as soon as is practicable after you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror. Turn your dome light on immediately after you are pulled over.

Do not scramble to hide items under the seats or in your glove compartment (they should already be hidden before you start driving). If you are going to drive after you have been drinking, make sure before you start driving that you know exactly where your insurance and registration information is located and that you can quickly, easily and efficiently access it.

What NOT To Say

If the police officer asks you if you have been drinking, do not under any circ*mstances say “yes” or “a little” or “just a few” or “earlier today” or “just a glass of wine at dinner” or something to that effect. Your answer to this question can and will be used against you. You are not under arrest when this question is asked. Accordingly, the police do not have to “read you your rights” to use this answer against you.

I often use the following example: If a police officer asked, “Do you have any cocaine on you?” would you say, “A little”? Admitting that you have been drinking is the best evidence an officer can use against you to get you out of the car and conduct a DUI investigation (more on that here). If a police officer asks you whether you have been drinking, JUST SAY “NO.” Do not be rude, do not be angry. Be polite and unequivocal. Just say no.

Your goal in this encounter is to be polite and compliant with the officer’s requests and get through the process as quickly and efficiently as possible. Hopefully all that happens is you are issued a ticket. Keep breath mints in the car. Make sure that your vehicle is free of any contraband. Do not keep any alcohol in the passenger compartment while driving. If you are transporting alcohol, make sure it is in the trunk of your vehicle. Similarly, do not smoke marijuana in the car or anything that would make the car smell suspiciously like marijuana or any other controlled substance.

If you do not give the officer any information upon which he or she could form a reasonable suspicion that you were intoxicated, and the officer does not make any observations that would support his or her conclusion that you were impaired, by law the roadside encounter cannot be extended any longer than is reasonably necessary to issue you a ticket for the moving infraction that formed the basis for the initial stop.

What Happens If The Officer Believes You Are Impaired

If the officer does form a basis to believe that you are impaired, he or she is permitted to extend the stop. There is now reasonable suspicion to believe that the crime of DUI is being committed. By law, the officer can detain you for purposes of conducting a DUI investigation.

If the police want to conduct a DUI investigation, the first step will be to ask you to exit the vehicle for roadside testing. In Pennsylvania, you must comply with this request. At this stage, you have several options that you need to understand. You can read about them here.

In DUI cases, State College criminal defense attorney Julian Allatt of Rehmeyer & Allatt will analyze the circ*mstances surrounding the initial stop of your vehicle. An experienced DUI lawyer will use this information as the first line of attack in your DUI case. If the police did not have a lawful basis to pull you over initially or if the observations they made during the initial roadside encounter did not give rise to reasonable suspicion to detain you and conduct a DUI investigation, that alone can be the basis for dismissal of your case.

If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI, please contact the State College DUI attorney at Rehmeyer & Allatt for a free consultation. Call 814-343-9860 or email us right now.

Pennsylvania DUI Attorney | DUI Charges | Rehmeyer & Allatt (2024)


How much does a DUI lawyer cost in PA? ›

The average cost of hiring a DUI lawyer in Pennsylvania ranges from $1,000 for straightforward cases to as much as $10,000 for more involved situations. In particularly complex cases, such as when serious injuries or fatalities are involved, fees can soar to $70,000 or more.

Can DUI charges be dropped in PA? ›

For first-time offenders charged with a DUI, the state of Pennsylvania allows you to enroll on an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. This allows many first-time offenders to get their charges dismissed or reduced.

How do you beat a DUI in PA? ›

How Can You Fight a DUI Charge in Pennsylvania?
  1. You Weren't Actually Driving Under the Influence. ...
  2. You Weren't In “Actual Physical Control” of Your Vehicle. ...
  3. Your Breath Test Result is Unreliable. ...
  4. Your Field Sobriety Test Results are Unreliable. ...
  5. The Police Stopped You Without Reasonable Suspicion.
Apr 12, 2024

Will I go to jail for the first DUI in PA? ›

Yes, jail time is mandatory for a first DUI in PA in cases of high or highest bodily alcohol content.

What is the 10 year rule for DUI in PA? ›

Pennsylvania has a 10-year "lookback" period for prior DUI convictions, meaning that if you're arrested for driving under the influence within 10 years of a prior DUI conviction, you can receive harsher consequences than you would for a first-time driving under the influence conviction.

What is the new DUI law in PA? ›


The new law mandates that any newly imposed DUI sentences be imposed consecutively if the individual has two or more prior offenses (with one exception noted below). This addition will be added as § 3804(c.

Can you plea bargain a DUI in PA? ›

If you're facing a Pennsylvania DUI charge, the district attorney may offer you a plea bargain, especially if the case against you isn't particularly strong. While some Pennsylvania DUI charges should be taken to trial, a skillfully negotiated plea bargain may serve your best interests.

How long does a DUI last on your record in Pennsylvania? ›

In Pennsylvania, a DUI conviction will remain on your record for life unless it is expunged or given limited access relief. Because your conviction is a matter of public record, it will be reflected in your criminal background and credit records as well as your insurance and driver's license history.

What is the most common reason for a DUI in PA? ›

Most times the police reports will say that a driver had bloodshot, glassy eyes, but the main reason for DUI, aside from an odor of alcohol, is an admission by the driver that confirms they have taken either illegal drugs or prescription medication.

Do you always lose your license with a DUI in PA? ›

With the first offense, there usually is no license suspension. However, second and third offenses result in a 12-month license suspension. You will also be required to install an ignition interlock device. This device requires drivers to perform a breathalyzer test before they start their car.

Can you lose your job for a DUI in PA? ›

In some cases, your attorney may be able to help you avoid a conviction altogether. A DUI conviction can have serious consequences for your employment, including loss of your job, suspension or loss of your professional license, and difficulty finding new employment.

How bad is a DUI in PA? ›

A high-BAC Pennsylvania DUI charge with one prior conviction carries a 12-month driver's license suspension, 30 days to six months in jail, a $750 to $5,000 fine, an ignition interlock device for one year, alcohol highway safety school, and substance-abuse treatment if ordered.

What is the most common sentence for a first DUI? ›

First-time DUI offenders will likely face misdemeanor criminal charges unless there are extenuating circ*mstances such as causing an accident or having a child in the car. In most cases, offenders will have their licenses suspended and be sentenced to probation.

What is the new law for suspended license in PA? ›

On November 3, 2022, Governor Wolf signed HB 987 into law, which will lift any current driver's license suspensions related to drug offenses. HB987 will end active and pending drug-related driver's license suspensions by converting the suspensions to “served” on driving records.

Do you get probation for DUI in PA? ›

Generally, your DUI probation may require you to undergo a substance evaluation and participate in alcohol abuse treatment. You may also have to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle, perform community service, and attend alcohol highway safety school.

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