Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules On New Twist in Sentencing for First and Second DUIs

Sentence enhancements for recidivism are applied to many different criminal offenses in states across the United States, though the law frequently differs. In most cases, sentence enhancements only apply when the accused has prior convictions on record for the same (or similar) offenses. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled on a twist in this general rule.

In 2009, Pennsylvania resident Patrick A. Haag Sr. was sentenced for two DUI offenses. He was cited for his second DUI within hours of being released after his first DUI citation. At sentencing, the court sentenced the defendant on the first DUI offense. For the second DUI offense, the court considered the first offense as a prior conviction under section 3806 of the Motor Vehicle Code, and ordered an enhanced sentenced for Mr. Haag's second DUI. Mr. Haag appealed, arguing that since he had not been convicted for the first offense when he was cited for the second, that his sentence for his second DUI conviction should not have been enhanced.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined that, in this situation, the courts should not have considered the first DUI conviction in the sentencing of the second DUI. They sent the defendant back to court for resentencing because, in Pennsylvania, offenders must have been convicted or had some other form of judicial process on a first DUI offense, such as acceptance in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, for it to be considered a prior offense for purposes of sentencing on a second conviction.

In other words, if you commit one DUI offense in Pennsylvania, you must be convicted and sentenced or have some other form of disposition on the offense before it goes on your record as a prior offense. If a first offense has not been disposed of through judicial process, the second offense is considered a first for the purposes of sentencing.

The criminal justice system was not as kind to William Joseph Love, another Pennsylvania resident who was convicted of a DUI in 2006. He opted for the accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) program instead of traditional sentencing on his first DUI offense. He was arrested for a subsequent DUI that same year, and his ARD was revoked.

Even though he had not yet been sentenced for the first offense, because he was accepted into the ARD, his first offense was considered as a prior in his sentencing for the second DUI. On appeal, the Superior Court ruled that the court was right to take into account the first DUI even though he had been approved for the ARD program because ARD is a form of disposition under section 3806 of the Motor Vehicle Code.

What Pennsylvania residents need to understand is that the Commonwealth observes a 10-year look-back period for DUI convictions. If you are convicted of a second DUI, you can expect the courts to consider your prior record in sentencing. Exceptions to this general rule only apply in very limited circumstances.