A Pennsylvania DUI conviction may prohibit the right to owning firearms in Pennsylvania. This precedent has recently been handed down and is determined as to how the Federal government defines a “serious crime” i.e. how high the bar has been set in respect of the level or degree of a crime that bars gun ownership. A serious crime (Federal law) is a crime carrying a two year (or more) sentence in state prison. A recent case saw an individual barred from buying a firearm in 2016 but was advised a Pennsylvania DUI conviction from 2005 prevented him from doing so. A lawsuit was then filed suing, amongst others, the FBI and the U.S. attorney general citing violation of his 2nd Amendment rights. The court noted a prior ruling by The Supreme Court describing those “who chronically drive under the influence” and those with blood alcohol levels “much higher than the legal limit” as “the most dangerous offenders” and those who are deemed “a danger may be disarmed” and that all branches of the Federal Government agreed.
A non partisan group (Firearm Owners Against Crime) sees the decision as the government overreaching and that no individual should lose their rights due to a misdemeanor. The individual was initially charged under Pennsylvania DUI law/statute in 2002 when he was at least twice the legal limit of .08 and this was wiped following completion of an accelerated rehabilitation program. The individual then pleaded to a further charge in 2005 and again was twice the legal limit (.08). The punishment for 2nd dui in pa (higher rate) carries upwards to 5 years imprisonment i.e. a first-degree misdemeanour. The guilty plea to the 2005 charge brought about a 90 day sentence (mandatory minimum). The fact that the penalties are at least 3 month minimum in jail no more than reflects the legislature view over repeat DUI offenders.
The prior lower court ruling was to reinstate the right to gun ownership but the 2-1 decision overturned this. The U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania agreed the DUI was “a non-serious crime” and that taking away his rights to gun ownership wouldn’t “promote the public safety” while also mindful of a decade of his crime free behaviour. The opinion of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put forward that “serious” in respect of disarming citizens post conviction is not as per “serious” within the ordinary context. Whether this is seen as disproportionate only time will tell and, further, asides from the circumstances around this one Pennsylvania DUI how far reaching and what are the implications given the most recent statistics available. In 2018 over 10,000 people died and 290,000 were injured as a result of DUI accidents. Those drivers who were fatally injured totalled 57% and had taken drugs or alcohol. In an American’s lifetime 2 out of 3 will be involved in a DUI accident. Underage drink driving (teenagers) accounts for around 25% of car accidents.
While it is also worth remembering that Pennsylvania has always come down hard on DUI offenders. In October 2018 legislation was passed and signed in to law which created a new felony category for some DUI offences. These much more stringent laws are as a result of Senate Bill 961, Which had substantial support in both House and Senate with only a total of only 5 in opposition out of 229. A DUI was always a misdemeanor under previous legislation but now a 3rd DUI in PA is a felony if Blood/Alcohol is 0.16 or above, a fourth is a felony irrespective. Under vehicular homicide if the driver has prior DUI records the minimum term is 5 years, old legislation was 3 years. If the driver has 2 prior DUI’s a minimum term of 7 years applies.
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