Legal Updates

Pennsylvania Superior Court Changes DUI Law

DUI-FIRST OFFENSE FOR OFFENDERS WHO ACCEPT ARD

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Chichkin, 2020 Pa. Super 121, No. 3475 EDA 2018.  In this decision the Superior Court held that prior acceptance of ARD does not constitute a prior offense under the DUI statute.  The Court held that prior acceptance of ARD “entails no proof of misconduct or conclusive irrebuttable proof of a prior offense.”  According to the Court, any fact that by law increases the penalty for a crime is an element that must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.  Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013).  Following this reasoning it is unconstitutional to apply heightened DUI penalties to individuals whose prior cases have not been subject to the intensified scrutiny of a trial. The Court further reasoned that the purpose of the ARD program is not to convict the defendant but offer rehabilitation and treatment for behavioral issues.  Therefore, the mere acceptance of ARD is not correlative to a conviction for DUI.

IMPACT ON DUI SENTENCING

The court’s decision substantially lessens the potential criminal liability a defendant may face who has had prior contacts with a DUI.  For example, under the statute as previously interpreted, a defendant who accepted ARD and was charged with DUI faced a mandatory minimum of ninety (90) days in jail for refusal or highest tier DUI.  Under the new interpretation of the statute, the same defendant would now be treated as a first-time offender and face a mandatory minimum sentence of seventy-two hours incarceration if convicted.  Instead of an eighteen-month license suspension the defendant would now face a twelve month license suspension if convicted since the alleged crime would be treated as a first-offense.

IMPACT ON ARD PROGRAM FOR FIRST-TIME OFFENDERS

The new development in the law makes ARD a substantially better deal.  Previously, if a defendant accepted ARD and was later convicted of DUI he would be treated as a second-offender with far higher penalties.  Therefore, it made sense to take a case to trial and win the case rather than accept the program since a not guilty verdict did not qualify as a prior offense.  Now that ARD does not qualify as a “prior offense” there is very little difference between a not guilty verdict and acceptance of the ARD program.  This may encourage more individuals to accept the program since it is not viewed as an admission of guilt and cannot be used against the defendant if he is subsequently arrested for Driving Under the Influence.

BENEFITS OF TRIAL OVER ARD

 While the new case law incentivizes first-time offenders to take ARD rather than take their case to trial there are still advantages to winning your case outright.  First of all, ARD carries fines and courts costs in excess of $1,000.00.  If you accept the ARD program you will be required to attend Alcohol Highway and Safety School classes.  Perhaps most importantly ARD also requires you to be placed on a period of probation between six months and two years.  If you violate your probation during this time period the ARD may be rescinded and you may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for violation of the probation.  Therefore while ARD is now more attractive under the Chickhin decision, it is not the equivalent of a not guilty verdict, which is still a superior disposition to acceptance of the program.

SHOULD I TAKE ARD OR PROCEED TO TRIAL

 It is important to discuss the decision whether to take ARD or proceed to trial with an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney.   An attorney can assess the stop and search leading to the arrest and ascertain whether there may be a viable motion to suppress under Article 1 Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  If there is a strong defense it may be sensible to proceed to trial.  If you are facing an uphill battle and ARD is offered then it may make sense to accept the program since it will no longer be treated as a conviction if you are arrested again for DUI and there is no admission of guilt in accepting the program.

SPEAK WITH A PHILADELPHIA CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER ABOUT YOUR CASE

 If you have been charged with Driving Under the Influence, First, Second, or Third Offense it is important to speak with an experienced Philadelphia criminal lawyer about your options.  You may be eligible for a program like ARD, Driving Under the Influence Treatment Court, Philadelphia Veterans court, etc. You may also have a strong defense to the case that would result in an acquittal at trial.  Therefore, before you accept a program or decide to plead guilty speak with a lawyer about our options.  Mark D. Copoulos has more than ten (10) years of trial experience defending individuals charged with Driving Under the Influence and related misdemeanor offenses in the Philadelphia Municipal Court.  His aggressive representation has resulted in hundreds of acquittals for defendants charged with DUI.  While every case is different, and case results may vary depending on the particular facts of your case, it is important that you speak with an experienced and strong advocate before accepting the government’s proposed resolution to your case.  For a free consultation contact Mark D. Copoulos now at 267-535-9776.  We offer a free no-obligation consultation either in-person or via ZOOM or related electronic platforms.  While no attorney can ethically guarantee to win your case, we will do everything possible to outwork the competition and ensure you receive the best possible chance of reaching a favorable outcome that enables you to move forward in your life.

FINAL ANALYSIS ON CHICKHIN

While the recent decision in Commonwealth v. Chickhin, 2020 Pa. Super. 121 makes the ARD program a more attractive option for first-time DUI offenders.  It is important to remember that are other prices for accepting ARD.  You will be placed on probation, you will pay fines, and be forced to take rehabilitative classes.  If you do not want to undergo this government supervision you may consider taking your case to trial.  For a free consultation contact our office at 267-535-9776.