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  • By: Kevin Leckerman, Esq.
  • Published: May 6, 2015
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39-year-old Christopher Gish of Dickson City, who slipped through 3 DUIs due to a legal loophole, could now be imprisoned for more than 10 years after closing of that loophole.

Gish faced three quick DUI arrests last year, but because of the loophole, he faced a lighter punishment. He has now withdrawn his guilty plea in Lackawanna County Court, Tuesday, and all his cases will go through the legal process again.

The recent change to the state drunken driving laws leading to harsher penalties lead to the identification of the courtroom discrepancy. According to the state laws, cases that receive DUI citations in quick succession will face much stiffer penalties. However, Gish’s criminal cases worked their way in court last year.

Like in most other states, the penalties for repeat drunk driving offenses in Pennsylvania increase significantly. However, before the recent change in drunken driving laws, drivers facing multiple DUIs in a short time period never faced the consequences for a repeat offense, and were charged with first-offense DUIs only. Until the offender had been sentenced in court for a previous charge, law didn’t allow the officers to charge the offender with a repeat offense. Since sentencing can take a while, offenders could get away with repeat offenses without getting punished. The recent amendment in drunken driving laws closed the loophole, allowing officers to charge the offender with more serious charges. Therefore, a quick series of DUIs will now lead to heavier sentences.

One month after the new law was passed, Gish was sentenced to six months house arrest by Lackawanna County Judge Michael Barrasse. He was also ordered to pay $8,100 in fines.

According to Cathy Tully, Gish’s public defender, since Gish pleaded guilty to the three separate DUI charges in October, and the law became effective in December, he is in a legal ‘gray area’.

Since he got sentenced after the change went into effect, the difference in penalties is huge. Before the loophole was closed, Gish faced a maximum of 18 months in jail. However, after the loophole was closed, he could face a maximum of ten and a half years in prison for three DUI convictions. According to the new law, three DUI convictions also carry a minimum sentence of 1 year in prison or house arrest.

After Judge Barrasse passed Gish’s original sentencing, the district attorney’s office alerted him that the sentencing may have been incorrect.

It is now a topic of discussion whether Gish’s sentence should be based on pre-amendment or post-amendment.

Gish’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Brian Gallagher who declined to address specifics of the case.

According to Ms. Tully, Gish is working hard and has been successfully battling his alcoholism problem since his arrest. He is doing an exceptional job with his recovery and treatment. Mr. Gish told the police that he was consuming a gallon of vodka per day at the time of his third arrest, but the situation is much better now.

Gish was reached at his home for comments. He acknowledged his mistake and said that he had been fulfilling the requirements of the county’s DUI Court.

According to Gish, he attends meetings regularly so that he can stay and remain sober. “I work a program daily. I hope people and kids turning 21 learn from my mistakes before they drink and drive and hopefully they get a designated driver or walk. I’m very grateful I did not hurt or kill anyone while drinking and driving,” he said.

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