Multiple convictions for driving under the influence in Pennsylvania is now a felony thanks to legislation that recently took effect.
Previously, Pennsylvania was one of only four states in the country that did not consider multiple DUIs as felonies. Those who drive under the influence are now subject to felony charges if, on their third DUI conviction, they are found to have driven with a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 or higher or under the influence of a controlled substance. A fourth DUI conviction — regardless of blood alcohol level or substance involved — will now also be considered a felony.
The law is meant to deter repeat DUI offenders by increasing the fine and jail time with each repeated conviction.
Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving, an advocacy group of parents who have lost children to DUI incidents, pushed for passage of the bill.
“Prior to the enactment of this law, you could get stopped for driving with a DUS/DUI and the penalty was always a $500 fine and 60 days in jail,” said Chris Demko, a co-founder of the group.
“But jail really became house arrest, so you really didn’t spend time in jail.”
The law will also deter repeat offenders by creating an escalating penalty, Demko said.
The minimum fine for two DUI convictions is now $1,000 with a minimum sentence of at least 90 days. A third conviction or more will cost an offender $2,500 and six months in jail.
The new law also increases the minimum sentence for past DUI offenders who commit intoxicated vehicular homicide. The penalty with one prior DUI is now five years, while the minimum for an offender with two DUI convictions increases to seven years.
According to Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving’s website, 140,000 Pennsylvanians have a suspended license because of a DUI — and up to 75 percent of them will continue to drive illegally.
If convicted of another DUI, those drivers are in for substantial fines and jail time.