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Pennsylvania Senate Passes Legislation For Repeat Drunken Drivers

For years, the state of Pennsylvania has allowed repeat drunken drivers to legally stay behind the wheel, causing a huge threat to drivers on the roadways. However, a recently passed legislation will bring an end to this loophole.

The legislation was unanimously passed by the Pennsylvania Senate on Thursday . The bill was sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery), and it will be signed by Gov. Corbett.

According to Rafferty, an Inquirer article published last month shed light on the loophole, which moved him to act. The loophole actually allows repeat drunk drivers to escape harsh penalties and keep driving legally. The newspaper reported that according to a 2009 state Supreme Court decision, a driver could not be treated as a repeat offender until he or she was sentenced in the first DUI case.

The current state law prevented prosecutors to press for harsher penalties when an offender has a prior DUI record. As a result, the prosecutors had to accept deals that would bundle the cases of chronic offenders and treat each case as a first-time offense.

The passing of the bill was applauded by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. The association’s legislative liaison, Greg Rowe, said, “It is always gratifying when the legislature comes together on a bipartisan basis and takes steps to protect the public, and that is exactly what happened here.”

The new legislation allows judges to consider previous cases to be repeat offenses even if the offender was not sentenced in the earlier incidents. It would therefore trigger harsher penalties for repeat offenders.

The case of Villanova lawyer Joseph Lawless was cited by the newspaper stating that he had five separate drunken driving arrests in less than a year, each recording exceptionally high levels of intoxication. He was only sentenced to 10 days in jail because each conviction was treated as a first-time offense. He should have received a longer sentence had the law been different.

According to the DUI changes adopted in 2003, any defendant with such high levels of intoxication should get 90 days in prison for a second offense, and a year in jail for each subsequent conviction.

Rafferty said that his bill will correct this issue and it will ensure that drivers who repeatedly drive drunk are held accountable for each offense, making the roads safer.

Apart from increasing punishments for repeat offenders, the bill also closed a second loophole which would lead to a stricter penalty for someone who refused to take a field sobriety test. Under the current law, any repeat offender who refused to take a sobriety test could receive a lesser sentence. Now, if the offender took the test and failed, it would lead to a maximum of six months in prison.

An amendment was also made to the bill to give a conditional driver’s license to convicted drug users and drug dealers who had their driving privileges recently suspended. There are as many as 15,000 cases, most of them in Philadelphia. The conditional license would allow them to drive to school or work.

Another article published by The Inquirer in February talked about the part of the bill whereby Philadelphia courts ignored a state law for a decade that called for suspension of driving licenses of drug convicts. Court officials were contacted by The Inquirer who acknowledged that they had failed to properly report drug convictions to the state Department of Transportation. Prosecutors also confirmed that they started sending PennDot the required paperwork to suspend the licenses of about 11,000 people convicted in drug cases.

After the article was published, similar belated notifications started coming from court officials in York County which involved as many as 4,000 drivers.

Some House members argued that old cases, dating as back as 10 years, should not have suspensions imposed after so many years. They stressed that a lot of people who were involved in drugs previously have reformed over the years.

The Senate agreed to pass the bill before the current legislative session that ended Thursday.

News Source: www.ABC27.com

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