The Potential Consequences of Driving Under a Suspended License in Pennsylvania - 1543(a) and 1543(b)

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

All Pennsylvania drivers have enough to be concerned about whether they are driving to and from work or school, or have personal or family obligations that require a trip on the road.  For other drivers in Pennsylvania, the concerns of driving are compounded by the prospect of a suspended driver's license, and in some instances, operating privileges that have already been suspended or revoked. 

Section 1543 of Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Code is the law regarding "driving while [a person's] operating privilege is suspended or revoked."  Understanding what potential consequences a driver can face for a 1543 charge, whether due to a DUI-suspended license or a license that is suspended for other reasons, can help ease the burden of the path forward.

What are the penalties for a 1543(a) charge in Pennsylvania?

Under 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1543(a) of Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Code (also known as "Title 75"), any person who drives a motor vehicle (car, SUV, truck, bus, and so forth) on any highway or trafficway in Pennsylvania after the commencement of a suspension, revocation, or cancellation of operating privileges (a person's driver's license), and before operating privileges have been restored, is guilty of a summary offense and is fined $200.  The most important concern is that if convicted of (or if a person pleads guilty to) a 1543(a) charge in Pennsylvania, the person's driver's license will be suspended for an additional one year term.  In addition, an effective attorney will recognize that the "enhancement provisions" of 75 Pa.C.S.A § 6503 ("Subsequent convictions of certain offenses") apply to convictions under Section 1543(a), and Section 6503 does not have to be charged.

What happens if I get multiple 1543(a) convictions in Pennsylvania?

Although fate will have to be actively working against a person to accumulate six or more 1543(a) charges in Pennsylvania, such unfortunate circumstances do arise at times.  In Pennsylvania, a person convicted of a sixth or subsequent offense under Section 1543(a) must be sentenced to a minimum fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for no less than 30 days or no more than six months per 75 Pa.C.S.A §  6503(a.1).

What are the penalties for a 1543(b) charge in Pennsylvania?

The penalties for a 1543(b) charge in Pennsylvania can be severe.  Violating 1543(b) of Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Code is not the only traffic offense that can result in severe penalties however. 

If the suspension or revocation of a driver's license was imposed: 1) as a condition of acceptance of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (known as "ARD") for a violation of 75 Pa.C.S.A § 3802 (a Pennsylvania DUI charge per present law) or former 75 Pa.C.S.A § 3731 (Driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance - repealed in 2003); 2) for a refusal under 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1543(b)(1); or 3) 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1581 (Driver's License Compact), the penalty upon conviction is a $500 fine and imprisonment for no less than 60 days or no more than 90 days

Do I need to get my driver's license restored to not be liable for a 1543(b) charge in Pennsylvania?

Defendants facing a 1543(b) charge in Pennsylvania should also note that Pennsylvania courts have consistently held that, notwithstanding the expiration of a period of suspension, a driver must seek restoration of the suspended license in order to avoid violating 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1543(b).

What happens if I am driving under a suspended license in Pennsylvania and I am arrested with alcohol or drugs in my system?

A person arrested for driving under suspension or revocation in Pennsylvania, as above, who at the time of testing (a Breathalyzer or blood test) has an amount of alcohol by weight in his or her blood that is equal to or greater than .02% at the time of testing, or has in his or her blood any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance (heroin and marijuana for example) or non-prescription Schedule II controlled substance (opium, methadone, methamphetamines, and cocaine for example) or Schedule III controlled substance (LSD, anabolic steroids, and barbiturates for example), as defined in the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, or its metabolite, faces grading and sentencing enhancement penalties.

A first conviction constitutes a summary offense and carries a $1,000 fine a a mandatory minimum of 90 days in jail.  A second violation constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree and carries a $2,500 fine and a mandatory minimum of 6 months in jail.  A third of subsequent conviction constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree punishable by a $5,000 fine and a mandatory minimum of 2 years in prison per 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1543(b)(1.1).

Is "Intermediate Punishment" (IP) available to defendants facing a mandatory jail or prison sentence for driving with a DUI-suspended license?  For driving under the influence?

Defendants sentenced to a mandatory term for driving under suspension, DUI-Related, or driving under the influence, may be sentenced to "intermediate punishment," also known as "IP" in Pennsylvania.  (This was not always the case however.  Prior to the enactment of the County Intermediate Punishment Act, effective August 21, 2000, intermediate punishment was not available for a driving while DUI-suspended or a DUI offense.)

Intermediate punishment in Pennsylvania is a combination of qualified restrictive intermediate punishment Programs (generally a reduced period of jail time and/or house arrest; work release may also be available to defendants) and "restorative sanctions" that satisfy the mandatory minimum requirements of multiple-offense DUI-suspended license offenders or DUI offenders facing mandatory terms of imprisonment. The individual phases of an Intermediate Punishment program promote employment, accountability, and reduction of alcohol and/or drug dependency to improve the lives of addicted offenders and increase community safety.

Who does Section 1543(b) apply to in Pennsylvania?

Section 1543(b) applies to any person against whom one of the enumerated suspensions has been imposed, whether the person is currently serving the suspension or whether the effective date of the suspension has been deferred under 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1544 (additional period of revocation or suspension).  The subsection applies until person's driving privileges have been restored.

Finally, § 1544(B) applies to any revocation imposed pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1542 (revocation of habitual offender's license) if any of the enumerated offenses was for a violation of 75 Pa.C.S.A § 3802 (or former  § 3731) or under the Driver's License Compact (75 Pa.C.S.A § 1581), for an out-of-state offense that is substantially similar to § 3802 - Pennslvania's driving under the influence statute (or former §3731).

What other consequences can I face if charged with a 1543(b) offense in Pennsylvania?

A person who is convicted or who accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1543(b)(1.1) is subject to a surcharge levied for disposition, and may be required to pay laboratory  user fees.

What can happen if I refuse to take a breath or blood test after getting stopped for a driving with a DUI-suspended license in Pennsylvania?

The implied consent provision of Section 1547(a)(1) apply to violations under Section 1543(b)(1.1).  If a person placed under arrest for this provision is requested to submit to chemical testing (a Breathalyzer or blood test) and refuses, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) will suspend the person's driver's license for six (6) months per Section 1543(b.1).

Can I be arrested if the police officer believes I was driving with alcohol or drugs in my system even if the police officer did not see me driving?

75 Pa.C.S.A § 3811 authorizes the arrest of a person without a warrant if the police officer has probable cause to believe that a violation of § 1543(b)(1.1) has occurred, regardless of whether the violation occurred in the officer's presence.

Pennsylvania law also allows "extra-territorial arrests" at any hospital or other medical treatment facility as long as the officer has probable cause to believe that a violation of § 1543(b)(1.1) occurred within the police officer's "subdivision" (jurisdiction).

Will my license be suspended again if convicted of a 1543 charge in Pennsylvania?

In addition to the criminal penalties contained in Section 1543, a conviction will result in a license suspension or revocation.  If the record shows that the person was under suspension, recall, or cancellation on the date of the 1543 violation and that the license had not been restored, PennDOT must suspend the person's license for an additional year.

If the record shows that the person charged with a 1543 offense in Pennsylvania was under revocation on the date of the Section 1543 violation and had not been restored, PennDOT must suspend the person's license for an additional two (2) years.

When will my suspension start if convicted of a 1543(b) offense in Pennsylvania?

When a defendant's license is suspended as the result of a conviction under § 1543(b), the period of suspension becomes effective immediately upon receipt of the certified conviction by PennDOT under § 1540(a).  The effective date is only relevant for purposes of determining when the defendant will be eligible to have his or her driving privileges reinstated or, in the case of a revocation, for determining when the defendant may reapply for a license.  These issues were addressed in the Pennsylvania court case of Commonwealth v. Jenner, 545 Pa. 445, 681 A.2d 1266 (1996).

Can I get credit for my Pennsylvania driver's license suspension while I am in jail or prison?

Credit for serving a suspension under 75 Pa.C.S.A § 1543(b)(1.1) may not commence until the date of the person's release from jail or prison.

Furthermore, if the person's operating privileges have been revoked pursuant to § 1543, the person is not entitled to automatic restoration of his or her operating privileges, but instead, may apply for a learner's permit upon expiration of the revocation.

Pennsylvania Attorney to Help with 1543 Charge | Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Facing a 1543 charge in Pennsylvania can be difficult; this will the case whether the 1543 charge involves a DUI-suspended driver's license or a drver's license that is suspended for other reasons.  Whether a person has to drive to and from work or school, or has personal or family obligations that require a valid driver's license, being convicted of a 1543 charge can have severe consequences.  In addition to the prospect of an additional period of license suspension, the prospect of jail time is an unfortunate reality.  It is critical to make sure that all possible steps are taken to defend against a 1543 charge because depending on a person's circumstances, there can be hope for a better resolution than what is otherwise mandated by Pennsylvania law.

If you or a loved one have questions or concerns about a 1543 charge in Pennsylvania, including, but not limited to, Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact LLF's skilled Criminal Law Team today to learn how we can help.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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