PA Motorists to pay cost of DUI arrestsEdit

Source: Michael Race, HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF, 7/12/2006,

HARRISBURG — The cost of drunken driving in Pennsylvania got a bit steeper this week.

A new state law took effect in July, 2006 that requires motorists who plead guilty or are convicted of DUI to pay for the cost of the blood or urine test that helped convict them. Conversely, if the charges are dismissed or dropped, the law enforcement agency that requested the test must pay.

Previously, there was no uniform system for assessing the costs, and taxpayers sometimes ended up footing the bill for alcohol testing on drivers who were convicted, according to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which helped push for the new law.

“This bill places the financial obligation for chemical testing on the guilty defendant instead of the innocent taxpayer,” said Mary-Jo Mullen, executive director of PDAA.

Though it’s a simple fix, it has been years in the making.

It began about five years ago when Northumberland County District Attorney Anthony Rosini got a bill from a local hospital for several thousand dollars worth of blood tests that had been done for DUI cases. Such tests typically had been covered by the DUI defendant’s insurance company, Mr. Rosini said, “but the insurance companies started to balk at that.”

His office eventually reached a payment agreement with the hospital, but it prompted Mr. Rosini to approach Rep. Merle Phillips, R-Northumberland, about updating the DUI law to specify that a guilty defendant must pay for the test, which typically costs $75 or more.

“I asked him if there was some way we could make it clear that it was the responsibility of the person arrested,” recalled Mr. Rosini, who said blood-alcohol tests are done in the majority of the roughly 400 DUI cases his office handles each year.

Mr. Phillips was glad to oblige, calling the new payment law “a commonsense method for determining who is responsible for the cost.”

Some prosecutors already assess convicted DUI offenders for the testing costs, but it typically involves requesting the sentencing judge to order payment.

Bradford County District Attorney Steve Downs said DUI defendants in his county are routinely asked to pay for blood-alcohol tests done by local hospitals, which cost about $80 to $90 each. He estimated about 200 such tests are done each year, costing about $16,000 to $18,000.

For counties like his, the new law simply formalizes an existing practice.

For others, however, it could save taxpayers thousands of dollars each year.

“In some cases, there’s a significant amount of money falling through here,” Mr. Rosini said.

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