For many Scranton residents, the holiday season brings opportunities to celebrate with friends and family. The festive holiday season also brings many opportunities to drink. Because of this, law enforcement agencies across the country enhance their DUI enforcement efforts during the holiday season with public awareness campaigns, checkpoints, and other enforcement strategies. DUI suspects and defendants have important constitutional rights which must be protected.
Pennsylvania Impaired Driving Statutes
Chapter 38 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute makes it a crime to drive under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. This chapter also sets forth sentencing and administrative consequences, and makes special provisions for certain types of DUI defendants. These include: minors; commercial or bus drivers; repeat offenders; defendants with a child in the vehicle; and those who refuse to take an alcohol test when requested by a law enforcement officer. Section 3408(e) creates mandatory suspension of driving privileges for defendants who are convicted of driving under the influence.
With so much media attention and advocacy efforts focused on drunk driving, it can be easy to forget that drugged driving is becoming a prevalent problem. The Washington Post reports that 2015 was the first year in which drugged driving caused more traffic fatalities than drunk driving. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health reports that the number of opioid-impaired drivers who caused fatal traffic accidents in the United States increased seven times between 1995 and 2015. While this exponential growth is partially due to the increased use of opioid drugs, it is also the result of legal difficulties in enforcing impaired driving laws. Like most other states, Pennsylvania has not been able to set a blood level at which impaired driving can be inferred. Unlike alcohol, researchers have not yet been able to confidently assess the point at which humans are likely to be impaired by such drugs. This makes it more difficult for officers to establish probable cause that a driver is impaired by drugs. The inexact nature of drug impairment also makes it more difficult for prosecutors to charge a defendant with impaired driving. Without set blood levels to establish impairment, a jury must generally infer it from testimony about the driver’s behavior. Medical expert witnesses are extremely limited in the effects of impairment to which they may testify. Without set limits, testimony that a driver should have been impaired is entirely speculative, and generally inadmissible.
For Scranton drivers, it is important to remember that alcohol or recreational drugs are not the only substances which can lead to an arrest for impaired driving. Prescription medications can impair a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle - especially when the medication is stolen, traded, or otherwise abused. Even medications which are taken exactly as prescribed can impair a driver and lead to a DUI conviction. After any DUI arrest, be sure to contact an experienced Scranton DUI attorney as soon as possible. The sooner an attorney becomes involved in your case, the better he or she will be able to mitigate the damage of a DUI arrest and protect your legal rights.