The Forgotten Truth About A Drug Convictions & Your Pennsylvania Driver’s License

One of our law firm’s core practice areas is handling drug cases that involves possession, sale for distribution of drugs such as cocaine, crack, heroine, marijuana, and other controlled substances. In my previous articles I have explained the difference between simple possession and possession with the intent to deliver as well as common defenses for drug crimes such as constructive vs. actual possession. Drug charges can be misdemeanor or felony offenses in Pennsylvania depending on the allegations surrounding the incident.

In Pennsylvania the simple possession of drugs is a misdemeanor offense. The sale, delivery, or distribution of drugs as a felony. While most of our readers understand that a drug conviction can give you a lifetime criminal record in Pennsylvania they don’t understand that the Commonwealth can and will suspend your driver’s license for any conviction involving drugs. Section 1532 of the Vehicle Code (Title 75) states that PennDOT will suspend the operating privileges of any person convicted of possession, sale, delivery, offering for sale, holding for sale, or giving away Controlled Substances. This suspension can occur from a conviction in any Pennsylvania court, any federal court or any conviction in any state court within the United States. Remember, PennDOT is an administrative agency and that driving is a privilege in Pennsylvania not a constitutional right. When PennDOT receives notice of your conviction they can suspend your license for six (6) months if you are a first time offender, one (1) year if it is your second offense, and two (2) years for a third offense or more.  These convictions don’t have to even involve a car!

While some attorneys have challenged the constitutionality of this suspension Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court has found it to be constitutional because Pennsylvania has a legitimate interest in deterring or protecting its citizens against the proliferation of drug use. Further, Pennsylvania courts have found that each conviction can and should result in a suspension so multiple convictions means multiple suspensions unless your attorney can show that they all came from a single criminal incident.

The District Attorney isn’t required to notify your criminal defense attorney about the suspension before, after or during a trial. The successful completion of an ARD Program will still prevent a license suspension but ARD however is usually reserved for DUI and petty disorderly offenses. For Drug Offense, Section 17 is usually the only alternative. A Section 17 allows a person accused of a drug crime to avoid a permanent conviction by entering into a diversion program. If you successfully complete the program, the charges will be permanently dismissed. The name “Section 17 probation” gets it name from sub-paragraph 17 within the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act in Pennsylvania (the “Drug Act”).

If you complete Section 17 probation, PennDOT won’t suspend your driver’s license because there is no conviction. Under this section the Commonwealth agrees to withdraw prosecution provided that you complete the necessary conditions of the program. If you have more questions about drug crimes, license suspensions, and criminal convictions subscribe to our monthly newsletter.