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Stages of a Pennsylvania DUI Case

Lehigh Valley DUI Lawyers

Stages of a Pennsylvania DUI Case

Below are the Stages of a Pennsylvania DUI Case, from the initial stop to trial

1. The Stop

The Initial Stop


The reason for the traffic stop is always an important factor in a Lehigh Valley DUI arrest.  If the driver is stopped for a moving violation the DUI case will be more difficult to defend.  If the stop is for equipment or paperwork issues, there are increased avenues of defense.  The failure of the officer to cite any moving violation is evidence that supports the driver’s innocence.  Your attorney should always look for the basis of the stop before all other things.

Initial Interactions


During an initial DUI stop, the officer will look for the following: How quickly and easily did driver produce license and registration?  Can alcohol or marijuana be observed or smelled? Can the driver speak coherently without slurring?  Does the driver have bloodshot eyes?  A quick production of documents, without any indicia of intoxication will not support removing the driver from the vehicle for field sobriety tests.

2. Removal From the Vehicle

Field Sobriety Tests


If, and only if, the officer has reasonable suspicion of DUI, can he or she ask the driver to exit the vehicle.  Upon asking the driver to exit the vehicle the officer will administer field sobriety tests (FSTs).  The tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk-And-Turn & One-Leg-Stand tests. However, DUI FSTs are designed to be failed.  Further limiting their reliability is the fact that many officers in Lehigh Valley DUI arrests have inadequate training and understanding of the tests. 

Portable Breathalyzer


Before or after FSTs, the officer may administer a Portable Breathalyzer Test (PBT).  To be admissible at Lehigh Valley DUI trial, DUI tests must be conducted on approved and calibrated equipment.  For this reason, the PBT test results are generally not admissible in a DUI preliminary hearing or trial.  PBT Results are, however, admissible in a suppression hearing as a basis for the officers’ subjective believe that he or she had probable cause to make a DUI arrest.

3. Arrest, Transport & Blood Draw

Arrest & Transport


If the officer believes there is “reasonable cause” for a blood draw, he or she will arrest the driver and transport them to the Easton DUI Center or hospital.   Statements made by a driver after a DUI arrest may not be admissible in a DUI trial.  If the arrest was made without probable cause, everything that occurred after the arrest may be subject to suppression.  Unlike virtually every other type of case, the driver does not have a right to speak with an Lehigh Valley DUI attorney before consenting to a blood draw.

Blood Draw


After arriving at a DUI Center or hospital, a driver has to make a choice of whether to consent to a blood test or risk license suspension for refusal.  If the test isn’t conducted within 2 hours of the initial stop, if the chain of custody of the blood is not strictly followed, or if the DL-26 wasn’t administered properly the results may be inadmissible.  Finally, the DUI statute relies upon whole blood percentages but test administered in a medical setting often test only blood serum levels.

4. Arraignment, Detention & Release

Preliminary Arraignment


If the driver is charged with a more serious DUI offense or charged with other offenses along with the DUI, he or she may be arraigned by a Lehigh Valley Magisterial District Judge. At a preliminary arraignment the judge may set a bail that must be paid prior to release from confinement from Lehigh or Northampton County Prison.  In most cases, preliminary arraignment is not conducted upon arrest and the driver will be free to leave once deemed sober or picked up by a friend.

Detention & Release


If the driver is deemed too intoxicated to drive, which by the nature of DUI arrest itself should be assumed, but not arraigned, then the driver will be permitted to call friends or family for a ride or detained until deemed sober.  Some facilities may allow the driver to call a taxi or Uber.  Typically Allentown and Easton DUI centers will video record all detention cells and may offer those videos as evidence at the time of trial.

Preliminary Hearing


In the vast majority of Lehigh Valley DUI cases, the preliminary hearing will be the first time the case comes before a judge.  At the Preliminary Hearing, the Commonwealth is only required to make a prima facie showing.  In other words, the Commonwealth need only prove that there is a substantial likelihood that a DUI was committed and that the person charged is the person that committed the DUI.

Nonetheless, the Preliminary Hearing is a very important stage of any Allentown, Bethlehem or Easton DUI case that may eventually go to trial.  It provides the defendant the opportunity to cross-examine the affiant and any witnesses as well as to prepare a the best defense at trial.

However, is the case is one in which DUI ARD or ASP may be the end goal, the Preliminary Hearing may often be waived in furtherance of that goal.

6. Diversionary & Alternative Programing Application

ARD Application


If the DUI is a first offense DUI or a the first DUI within 10 years, the defendant may be eligible for the ARD program.  ARD is an acronym for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition.  The Lehigh and Northampton County ARD programs can greatly reduce, or even eliminate, any license suspension.  DUI ARD in Allentown & Easton can completely eliminate any mandatory minimum sentence.  Further, entry into the ARD program requires no formal admission of guilty and is therefore not a conviction.  However, ARD is, in some circumstances, more expensive than a conviction.  If ARD is an option, the application must often be submitted prior to Formal Arraignment.

Alternative Sentencing Programs


Many counties offer ASP, an Alternative Sentencing Program, for second or third offense DUIs.  Some counties may even offer more than one program.  While most of these programs do not entirely eliminate any mandatory minimum sentences or license suspensions due to a DUI conviction, they do restructure sentences in such a way as to benefit a defendant.  Alternative Sentencing Programs may be as simple as simple replacing incarceration with house arrest or as complicated as a step down program including incarceration, work release, rehab and house arrest.  Generally one must apply for these programs prior to Formal Arraignment.

7. Court of Common Pleas – Formal Arraignment

Formal Arraignment


Formal Arraignment is the first court hearing in the more formal Court of Common Pleas.  Formal Arraignment varies greatly from county to county.  In Northampton County, Formal Arraignment is a mandatory court date in a DUI case.  In Monroe & Lehigh Counties Formal Arraignment can be waived in advance in DUI cases.  


If you’ve applied for ARD or an ASP Program skip ahead to 9.1

8. Court of Common Pleas – Pre-Trial Motions & Trial

Pre-Trial Motions


If the DUI case has pre-trial motions, those may include suppression motions, habeas corpus motions or other pre-trial litigation.  Suppression Motions may be filed when the government has obtained some form of evidence in violation of a defendant’s rights.  Habeas Corpus Motions may be filed when the Commonwealth is unable to make even a prima facie showing of guilt.  These motions require special pleadings and their own hearings prior to a trial.

DUI Trial


If the Lehigh Valley DUI case has not resolved via ARD, ASP or Pre-Trial Motions, the case will be listed for a trial.  Depending upon the severity of the DUI, the trial may or may not include a jury.  Generally, first offense DUIs are not allotted a jury, second offense DUIs may or may not have a jury and all third offense DUIs are granted a jury trial.  Lehigh Valley DUI trials are often won or lost via skilled cross-examination and expert testimony.

9. Evaluations – CRN & Drug & Alcohol

CRN Evaluation


CRN stands for Court Reporting Network.  The purpose of a CRN Evaluation or Screening is to determine if a more through Drug & Alcohol Evaluation is needed.  A CRN evaluation is required in all DUI case prior to admission into ARD or sentencing.  If the CRN indicates a need for a Drug & Alcohol Evaluation, that too will be required to be completed.

Drug & Alcohol Evaluation


Most, but not all, DUI cases will require a full Drug & Alcohol Evaluation regardless of the CRN outcome.  During a Drug & Alcohol Evaluation, the evaluator ask a series of questions and ultimately recommend in-patient drug & alcohol treatment or outpatient drug & alcohol treatment.  This recommendation is important because the defendant will not be eligible to be relicensed until the treatment is completed.  Often the court system will steer defendant’s towards their preferred evaluators but it is important to remember that a private evaluation by a provider of your choosing will suffice as well.

10. Sentencing or ARD Admission

ARD Admission


If the DUI defendant’s ARD application is approved, they will be scheduled for an ARD Admission hearing.  In some counties this may occur immediately at Formal Arraignment, in other counties this hearing will be scheduled after Formal Arraignment.  The ARD hearing is, by law, “off the record.”  Upon admission into ARD, all other court hearings will be cancelled.  Once the defendant completes the terms of ARD, the DUI charges will be dismissed by the Court of Common Pleas.  If for some reason the terms of ARD are not complied with, the case may be listed for trial at a later date.

Skip ahead to 12.1 if a license suspension is expected, skip ahead to 13.1 if no license suspension is expected.



If the DUI defendant has plead guilty, been found guilty at trial or been accepted into an Alternative Sentencing Program, a sentencing hearing will be held.  The sentencing hearing can be held immediately after a guilty plea or admission into an alternative sentencing program or it may be scheduled for a later date.  At a sentencing hearing, the judge will impose a sentence on the defendant after hearing from both the prosecution and the defense.  Although the sentence is imposed by the judge at the hearing, the judge may order that the sentence does not start until a later date.

11. Serving Confinement Sentences

Incarceration & Work Release


If a DUI sentence involves incarceration or work-release, an individual may either be transported directly from court to the housing facility or will be permitted to turn themselves into the facility at a later time or date.  If granted work release and permitted to turn oneself in at a later date, the defendant should contact the prison in advance to set-up a work a schedule and get medical clearance and testing prior to reporting for incarceration.  If medical clearances are not taken care of in advance, the defendant may not be able to leave the facility for a number of days while medical tests and clearances are conducted.

Alternative Sentencing Programs


In some counties alternative sentencing programs conducted as a “class” or group and orientation is provided prior to the commencement of sentence.  In other counties alternative sentencing programs are begun individually.  Further, some counties may have some programs conducted by group and other programs conducted individually.  Generally, alternative sentencing programs will have step-by-step guidance prior to commencement of sentence but always be proactive by speaking with your attorney and program providers.

House Arrest


In some DUI cases house arrest may be imposed for the entirety of sentence while in other counties a period incarceration or work release may be followed by a period of house arrest.  Generally, to be eligible for house arrest the defendant must have a landline in their residence for the equipment to operate from.  The defendant will also have to provide the house arrest provider with his or her work schedule, if applicable.  Finally, while house arrest is often a great sentencing option, it can be expensive and may sometimes results in a longer overall sentence.

12. License Suspension & Restoration

License Suspension


The DUI Court will not take your license and has no authority of license suspensions.  A license suspension is triggered by most DUI ARD admissions and convictions but it is PennDOT that actually imposes a suspension.  Upon admission into ARD or conviction, PennDOT will send a letter to the address they have on file for you.  The letter will require you to submit your license to PennDOT.  It is important to know that your suspension starts on the date contained in this letter but you will receive no time credit for the suspension until your license is received by PennDOT.  For this reason it is important that PennDOT has your current address and that you submit your license to PennDOT.  Otherwise, your license suspension will be longer than required.

License Restoration


Your license will not self restore and you will remain “under DUI suspension” until your take affirmative steps to restore your license.  It is incredibly important to restore your driver’s license as soon as you are eligible by contacting PennDOT and paying the restoration fee.  Even if the length of your suspension has run, and you are pulled over years later without restoring your license, you may be found guilty of driving under DUI suspension. A Driving Under DUI Suspension conviction will subject to a 60 day mandatory minimum prison sentence as well as an additional license suspension of at least one year.

13. ARD, Probation & Parole Supervision

ARD Supervision


DUI ARD supervision typically lasts 6 months.  During those six months a defendant may be subject to random urine screenings and ask to report to a probation office on a regular basis.  Additionally, if any community services, court costs, fines and educational classes are order, they must be completed or paid within that period of time.  Any failure to comply with the rules of ARD may result in the defendant’s removal from the ARD program and a listing of the case for trial.  A successful completion will result in dismissal of the charges.

Probation Supervision


DUI Probation supervision is typically ordered in the limited circumstances when a defendant has not entered into the ARD program but receives a sentence that does not include work release or incarceration.  During DUI probation the defendant may be required to complete community service, pay fine and costs, submit to random urine screenings and remain arrest free.  If a defendant violates any of the terms of probation they may be resentenced to a harsher punishment.

Parole Supervision


Parole Supervision is typically ordered when a defendant has received a sentence that contains some portion of confinement.  Like ARD and Probation supervision, Parole Supervision requires the defendant to pay costs and fines, complete any community service and programing and submit to random urine screens.  A new arrest of a failure to abide by the terms of parole can lead the defendant being immediately re-imprisoned pending a hearing.  Unlike probation a judge cannot resentence a parolee but may order a parolee to serve the remainder of their sentence.

14. Completion of DUI Case

DUI - Case Closed

Once your DUI supervision has been completed and your license has been restored, your DUI case has been completed.  It is important to remember that DUI cases recidivise, meaning that the punishment gets harsher with each additional arrest.  While jail time can be avoided on a first offense DUI, a third offense can often carry an onerous one-year mandatory minimum.  Drive safe and drive sober.

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Lehigh & Northampton County DUI Defense Staff