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Pa. House bill would give repeat DUI offenders harsher penalties

Legislation that imposes stiffer penalties on those convicted of at least two prior driving under the influence offenses was approved by the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

The legislation, dubbed Deana’s Law, is named in memory of Deana Eckman, a Delaware County resident. She was killed in a 2019 crash involving a highly intoxicated driver who had five prior DUI offenses.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Christopher Quinn, R-Delaware County, said if that driver had been serving consecutive sentences for his fourth and fifth DUIs, he would have been in prison at the time of Eckman’s death.

“Enacting Deana’s law would better protect Pennsylvanians from the worst of the worst repeat DUI offenders,” Quinn said. “When you are talking about people who have had three, four or five DUIs like the individual who was responsible for Deana’s death, you’re dealing with people who’ve clearly not learned their lesson and are demonstrating a sincere danger on our roads.”

Similar legislation was moving through the General Assembly in the last legislative session but it got loaded up with other DUI reform measures and never became law.

Quinn’s bill is stripped down to focus on the two core issues that Eckman’s family would like addressed, said House GOP staffer Josiah Shelly. One is to increase the penalty for those convicted of a third or more subsequent DUI with a blood-alcohol content of .16 or higher, drug-related DUI, or who refuse a breathalyzer or blood test. The other key issue is to require consecutive sentencing for those offenders, he said.

It raises the grading of the felony for someone who meets that criteria with three prior DUI offenses to a second-degree felony, which can carry a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and up to $25,000 fine. Currently, it is a third-degree felony which carries a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment and up to a $15,000 fine. Fourth and additional convictions would remain a second-degree felony but the sentencing can be enhanced. The minimum sentence they could serve is one year.

Rep. Joseph Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, said he generally objects to mandatory minimum sentences because he doesn’t think they work. In this case, he said he could be a reluctant yes since the stiffer penalties apply only in cases where individuals have three or more convictions for extremely high blood-alcohol content offenses.

The bill won unanimous approval from the committee and now is in a position to move to the full House for consideration.

“Passing House Bill 773 in Deana’s memory will be a significant step in ensuring no other Pennsylvanian experiences the heartache of the senseless death of a loved one at the hands of a repeat DUI offender,” Quinn said.

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