Pennsylvania’s DUI law states that if a person is caught driving with the highest rate of alcohol (0.16% or higher) and they have a prior DUI, they will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor and could be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison. According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, that’s enough for a person to lose their gun rights.
A Case of Two DUIs
The Court of Appeals’ decision came after a case was brought to it concerning a man who was denied a firearm purchase because of a DUI conviction nearly 11 years prior. In 2002, the man was first convicted of driving with the highest blood alcohol concentration (BAC). He completed the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, which wiped the conviction from his record.
However, 3 years later, the man was again charged with a DUI. This time his BAC was recorded at 0.192%. In this case, he pleaded guilty to the offense and was sentenced to 90 days in prison and a $1,500 fine.
Gun Purchase Denied
In 2016, the man went to buy a gun for protection. However, he was denied because of his DUI conviction. Under 18 U.S. Code § 922(g)(1), if a person is convicted of a crime that has a penalty of over 1 year incarceration, they are prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm.
The man sued the government, stating that denying him a gun was a violation of his constitutional rights. At the initial trial, a district court judge agreed with the man and said 18 U.S. Code § 192(g)(1) was wrongly applied.
The government appealed that decision.
Does Pennsylvania’s Highest BAC DUI Law Constitute a Serious Offense?
The question posed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District was whether or not a conviction under Pennsylvania’s highest BAC DUI law constitutes a serious offense – one that would warrant a person to be stripped of their gun rights.
The court applied 2 different analyses to answer that question.
First, the court sought to determine whether or not 18 U.S. Code § 922(g)(1) could be applied to the man’s case. The federal law specifically states that a person is prohibited from having a gun if they were convicted of an offense that is punishable by more than 1 year imprisonment. As stated earlier, under Pennsylvania’s DUI law, a conviction for highest BAC with a prior DUI offense can result in up to 5 years in prison. Therefore, the court stated that it was lawful to apply the law to the man’s case.
Next, the court had to determine whether or not the man’s DUI conviction was a “serious” offense. It stated that “a crime that presents a potential danger for risk of harm to self and others is ‘serious.'” Judge Patty Schwartz said in the opinion that “drunk driving is a dangerous and often deadly crime” and results in more deaths per year than murders. The court asserted that although the use or threat of violence is not an element of DUI laws, because of the potential consequences, engaging in this behavior is still a serious offense.
The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling and decided in favor of the government, meaning that it was lawful for the man to lose his gun rights because of his second DUI conviction.
Being charged with a DUI can have severe consequences on your life. If you’re facing accusations in Scranton, call the Law Offices of William D. Thompson at 570-846-2819 or contact us online to discuss your case.