Charged with retail theft. What do I do?

Q: I was convicted of retail theft and I was not sure of my mistake because I was very sick and lost my debit card and went back to retrieve it. Also, I have been sick for 2 weeks since the incident happened. I was on medication but was not sure what happened but was willing to pay for everything. They stopped me when leaving but the guy was not listening and told me it’s too late. I think I forgot because I was too worried about my debit card and had stress on my mind. I want the charges dropped. I don’t want it on my record and need of a defender. What should I do? It will ruin my life if I get charged. How do I get a Public Defender as I have no job right now? (West Homestead, PA)

A: Stop the drama and talk to an attorney. In Allegheny County, there is a first -time offender’s program for Retail Theft whereby you don’t admit guilt, you complete a class on the evils of Retail Theft and the charge is withdrawn. After that you can pay an attorney to expunge your arrest record, and then you will have a clean record. I do this all the time. Call a private attorney or sign up with the PD. The Allegheny County PD is in room 400 of the County Office Building in downtown Pittsburgh at the corner of Forbes and Ross St. You can go there or call. There number might be 412-350-2401. If you are computer savvy, just look them up. They require that you apply a week in advance of your hearing, so get on it. Good Luck!

First DUI

Q: Asking for a friend here. Her BAC was .210 and .181. This is her first DUI. What will happen and how much trouble will she get in. Will she lose her license? Should she get a lawyer? (Baldwin Borough, PA)

A:  If she truly has no prior record, is ARD eligible, and, she has no solid defense, ARD would be a good option. Those blood alcohol content readings sound strange due to the disparity, but assuming she is over .159, she will be looking at a 60 day driver license suspension if she is ARD eligible. If not ARD eligible and she pleads guilty or is found guilty, she will receive an 18-month suspension. Have her consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to assess whether she has any defenses and what her options are.

Why would this be as first-offense DUI?

Q: My ex-husband and father of my son had his 1st DUI in 2004 and did the ARD program, his 2nd DUI was in 2012 and he had house arrest, probation and 12-month license suspension. Now he had his 3rd DUI in December 2017. It was my understanding that this would count as his 2nd since the 1st was over 10 years ago. However, I looked up the docket sheet on the public website and it says the charge is: 2 75 § 3802 §§ C* DUI: Highest Rate of Alcohol (BAC .16+) 1st Off. Why would this be only the 1st offense? The offense from August 2012 says: 6 75 § 3802 §§ C* DUI: Highest Rate of Alcohol (BAC .16+) 1st Off and 2 75 § 3802 §§ A1** M DUI: Gen Imp/Inc of Driving Safely – 2nd Off. These all happened in different counties (Allegheny, Butler and Beaver) if that makes a difference, all in Pennsylvania. (MacDonald, PA)

A: The police normally charge DUI’s as a first offense because they usually do not have access to a comprehensive criminal record check at the time of arrest. The charge is more accurately amended when the DA has had time to run a more thorough background check once the case is sent to the Common Plea level. It is likely his prior DUIs will be discovered and this will be his second in ten years, thus charged as a second DUI. He won’t receive any benefit for spreading his drinking and driving among different counties, they are all charged under state law.

Charged with 3rd DUI this past April. Last DUI in 2006. Why?

Q: I was arrested on April 17, 2017 for my third DUI. My first DUI was in 2006. I do not remember the date of sentencing and the docket sheet is not available on the UJS Portal website which has the public records. I also had ARD for my first one. Because I cannot find the date of disposition I do not know if it qualifies for the 10-year look-back. I hired a lawyer and paid him a good sum of money for the preliminary hearing all the while he said he would look into the first DUI. He never did it he always seems to have some an excuse. The preliminary is over and now I am awaiting formal arraignment in a few days on October 31st. I am now paying him more money and he says he cannot find anything out until after the arraignment. He even said that I don’t have to be present for the arraignment which is suspicious to me because I was unaware that the arraignment is where I either plead guilty or not guilty. Either I had my head in the clouds or he didn’t inform me of this. I’ve been doing research and I’m starting to get irritated with him. My last question is if I choose to go with another lawyer can I request a postponement to obtain my records? (West Homestead, PA)

A: It sounds like you should listen to your attorney. In Allegheny County, the defendant need not appear at the Formal Arraignment if an attorney who has entered his appearance handles it. You do not plead guilty or not guilty at your Formal Arraignment. Your attorney may be waiting for a confirmation from the DA. The Allegheny County DA has a department that does nothing but run criminal histories on defendants and they are usually accurate. The DA should have your record at the Pretrial Conference to share with your attorney or shortly thereafter and this will shed light as to whether you have made ten years from date of conviction to date of arrest. If the last DUI was in 2006 and you made ten years, it will be graded as a first offense under the guidelines.

I got three DUIs. Will I get more time for the third one?

Q: I got two DUI charges in Allegheny County with probation. My first DUI was for controlled substance, second for alcohol. I was on probation in Allegheny. I received third DUI for alcohol in a Beaver County. How does that affect my charges and sentence? (Scott Twp., PA)

A: I suggest an attorney. Perhaps one that handles cases in both counties. If you have three pending DUI’s and have not been convicted (pled guilty or found guilty) of any one of them, then they are all considered first-time DUIs. This means obviously the sentence range will be lower. However, a judge will take note that you have three pending DUI’s even if none are considered prior to the others and add a little time to your sentence. As far as probation is concerned, obviously, your probation judge will not be pleased that you committed three DUIs on his or her probation. You could possibly be detained by the probation judge and sentenced to jail time.

Is this my first or second DUI?

Q: I was convicted of DUI on 2/05/2006 and sentenced for another on 5/05/2016. Would this be considered my first DUI in ten or my second? I was charged with DUI general imp/incapable of driving safely.

A: The 10-year period commenced on the date of your last conviction and ended on the date of your most recent arrest. If your most recent arrest is beyond that period, your DUI is a first for the purposes of sentencing. If you were arrested prior to February 5, 2016, on your new DUI case, this will be a second DUI offense and you will not be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program.


Q. Does anyone know if the look back period for a DUI in PA is from arrest date to next arrest date or from conviction date to conviction date?

A. The DUI look back is from the date of the conviction to the date of the new arrest. The look back period is 10 years. If you have made 10 years, your recent DUI will be considered a first DUI, for the purposes of sentencing. You also may qualify for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, otherwise ARD, a first offender’s program, if there is nothing else precluding you from the program. There are exceptions. Be aware of bumped-up license suspension periods for higher blood alcohol content, drugs in your blood system, accidents or being a minor.