How Can I Avoid Jail Time If It’s My First DWI Offense?

We represent people accused of DWI and defend their rights to protect their liberty and ability to support their families. Depending on the circumstances (including how much alcohol is in the blood at the time of arrest), someone arrested for the first time on a DWI charge can avoid a sentence of imprisonment (though you may spend time in a holding cell after your arrest). There are many ways this might happen:

  • The charge is successfully defended and after a trial you are found not guilty,
  • The evidence is so weak that the prosecutor can be convinced to drop the charges,
  • A plea bargain can be arranged to avoid prison time,
  • You could be accepted for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or
  • Imprisonment is not a possible punishment for the crime (though there may be fines, probation and a license suspension).

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition

In some first offense DWI cases, the defendant may have the option of attending the state’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. ARD is a pretrial program which diverts certain first-time DWI offenders out of the criminal justice system into an alternative system. To be considered for ARD, a request must be made to the prosecuting attorney. A decision is discretionary and is completely up to the prosecutor. You must also meet certain criteria,

  • There are no prior DWI convictions or you have not been placed on ARD within the past 10 years,
  • If an accident was involved, there must be no serious bodily injury to anyone else, and
  • There were no children under the age of 14 in the vehicle with you.

The maximum period for ARD supervision is two years. The terms of ARD supervision includes prompt payment of all court costs, completing substance abuse treatment, community service and maintaining employment. What you will be required to do may vary. If you successfully complete ARD your record will be expunged and there will be no continuing criminal record of your DWI offense (though there will be a non-public record at PennDOT).


The fine amount for a first offense DWI in Pennsylvania depends on the blood alcohol level (BAC) when you were arrested,

  • $300 for a BAC level of .08% to .099%,
  • $500 up to a maximum of $5,000 plus court costs with a BAC level of .10% to .159%, and
  • $1,000 up to a maximum of $5,000 plus court costs for a BAC level of .16% or greater.

Probation and Jail Time

A first offense DWI with a BAC level of,

  • .08% to .099% will receive a probationary period of up to six months,
  • .10% to .159% will receive a minimum of 48 consecutive hours in jail up to a maximum of 6 months, and
  • .16% or greater will result in a minimum of 72 consecutive hours in jail up to a maximum of six months.

Drivers License Suspension

A first offense DWI in PA with a BAC of .10% or less will not result in a driver’s license suspension if the driver meets the criteria outlined by the courts and the state Department of Transportation. A BAC level of .10% or more will result in a twelve month license suspension. First time offenders whose license was suspended will be eligible to apply for an occupational limited license at the end of the first sixty days of the suspension period.

It is rare that a first time DWI offender will be sentenced to jail time, but it does happen. If you’ve been arrested for a DWI offense, whether for the first time or not, contact our office to arrange a free consultation so we can discuss your case and your options.

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