On December 22, 2018, Pennsylvania’s new DUI law (Act 153) went into effect. Among other revisions, the new DUI law changes certain DUI offenses from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

Previously, the only DUI felony offenses were DUI accidents involving serious bodily injury (aggravated assault by vehicle) or death (homicide by vehicle, DUI-related). Now, certain repeat DUI offenses will be graded as a felony.

An impetus for the new law are studies which show that (1) about one-quarter of all drivers convicted of DUI are repeat offenders, and (2) a driver with a prior DUI conviction is approximately 50 percent more likely to be involving in a traffic fatality than a person without a prior DUI conviction. The new Pennsylvania DUI felony law is designed to target repeat offenders for greater penalties.

Specifically, a third DUI offense in the “highest tier” — or any fourth or subsequent DUI offense — will be graded as a felony of the third degree. Previously, such offenses were graded as misdemeanors of the first degree. A DUI is considered to be in the “highest tier” when the offender has a blood alcohol content of over 0.16 percent or when the offender “refuses” to take a blood or breath test.

The practical effect of this change is that repeat DUI offenders will face the potential of longer prison sentences and period of supervision (probation and/or parole).

The new law also increases the mandatory minimum sentence for homicide by vehicle cases when the driver is under the influence and has prior DUIs. The minimum sentence increases from 3 to 5 years if a person has one prior DUI and from 3 to 7 years if a person has two or more prior DUIs. And, the new law increases the penalties for repeat DUI offenders who drive while their license is suspended.