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What Happens After a DUI Arrest in Pennsylvania?


The DUI Arrest

Typically, charges of Driving Under the Influence Alcohol and/or Drugs are filed following a traffic stop and an arrest for suspicion of DUI:

The driver of a vehicle is pulled over by police for an alleged traffic violation. Upon making contact with the driver of the vehicle, an officer observes signs of impairment due to alcohol or drug consumption (for example, an odor of alcohol or marijuana; glassy, bloodshot eyes; slurred speech). The driver is requested to exit the vehicle and perform Field Sobriety Tests (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, 9 Step Walk-and-Turn, One-Leg Stand). Based upon alleged poor performance on the tests, the officer "arrests" the individual for suspicion of DUI and that person is transported for a blood or breath test.

It is not uncommon for people to contact me following a DUI arrest indicating they were never actually "arrested." They may not have been placed in jail and required to appear before a judge and post bail. Instead, following the investigation and blood draw or arrest, they were released to a friend or family member without ever receiving any paperwork. While this may not be consistent with Saturday night's episode of the show Cops, this is normal.

The Filing of the Criminal Complaint and Affidavit of Probable Cause

After you have been released following a DUI arrest, the police investigation or acquisition of evidence may not be complete. Where a blood test is being used to determine Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), it could take days or weeks for the police to get the results. In many counties throughout Pennsylvania, the blood may be drawn at a local hospital and then sent to an independent laboratory for testing. This can contribute to a delay in the filing of drunk driving charges.

Once the police receive a lab report with the BAC results, the officer will prepare the charges. DUI (and other criminal) charges are filed by Criminal Complaint and Affidavit of Probable Cause. The Criminal Complaint includes a face page titled "Criminal Complaint" outlining general, background information. Additional pages of the Criminal Complaint then outline the actual charges filed. In some instances, an officer may only file a Criminal Complaint outlining the charges with basic factual allegations to support their claims.

However, in most instances, an Affidavit of Probable Cause follows the Criminal Complaint. The Affidavit of Probable Cause is like a short story of a few or several paragraphs describing the investigation and basis for the charges.

The general purpose of the Affidavit of Probable Cause is to provide basic notice of the accusations against a person, as well as the basis for the charges. It is called the Affidavit of Probable Cause because it is intended to offer support or evidence to establish probable cause for the arrest. It is not called the Affidavit of the Entire Story and, therefore, it often omits facts (some of which could be favorable to the defendant or person accused of DUI). We understand and expect this.

The Summons

Once the Criminal Complaint and Affidavit of Probable Cause are prepared, the prosecuting officer will file the charges with the appropriate Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judge (MDJ). Upon filing, the MDJ office will send the charges by mail along with a Summons to Appear for a Preliminary Hearing. The Summons or Notice will identify the date, time, and location of the court appearance.

Additionally, if a person has not already been processed (fingerprinted and photographed), a Fingerprint Order will likely be included in the paperwork. It will direct you to appear to a specific location (a police department or Central Processing Facility) and time within it must be completed. Failure to comply could negatively impact bail in some cases.

The Preliminary Hearing

It is what it says it is: Preliminary. It is the initial hearing in the criminal justice process and first opportunity to begin implementing a strategy to achieve your goals for the outcome of your case.

It is both an opportunity to negotiate and challenge the evidence and accusations. (For more information on the importance of this proceeding, check out "What is a Preliminary Hearing in Pennsylvania?").

This will also be the final opportunity to address bail before the case moves to the Main Court level.


About the Author:

Attorney Shawn M. Curry focuses his practice on DUI & Criminal Defense. Over the last 8 years, he has been Helping People accused of drunk and drugged driving charges throughout Central PA. During that time, he has negotiated, as well as litigated through suppression, trial, and appeal, numerous DUI cases. Attorney Curry has also obtained training and certification as an Instructor in Standard Field Sobriety Testing and an Evidentiary Breath Technician.

Contact Shawn Curry Law today.


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