Articles Posted in DWI Topics Of Interest

When you are stopped for a New York DWI, the investigating officer is required to make an initial determination whether your driving is impaired by alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two. The initial basis for the traffic stop is premised on whether the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the motorist is impaired due to erratic driving, a specific traffic infraction, or observations that the driver is slumped in his or her seat, for example.

The officer will then observe the manner in which you stop your vehicle after you are notified to pull over—was it jerky, a short stop, or did it take you a long time to come to a stop? Other observations at this time might include how far you stopped from a curb, striking the curb, or moving to the side of the road in a haphazard fashion. When the officer requests that you exit your vehicle, there are three generally recognized standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) which you will be asked to take. Field sobriety tests are in essence divided attention tests, meaning that they are designed to determine if you can follow directions as well as perform tasks which require balance, coordination, and clear vision, among other things.

The three standardized field sobriety tests are the walk and turn, the one leg stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. The theory is that these tests, either individually or in conjunction with each other, will correctly determine which drivers are impaired by alcohol or drugs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the HGN correctly determines in 77% of cases if a driver has a BAC of 0.10% or above, the walk and turn is accurate in 68% of cases, and the one leg stand correctly predicts 65% of intoxicated drivers.

In this article, we will focus on the walk and turn. The two stages of this divided attention test are the instructions, followed by the walking section. For the instructions, the driver must stand with his/her feet in a heel to toe position, with their arms at their sides, and listen to the instructions. The person must keep his/her attention divided between remembering the instructions and keeping their balance and staying on the line.

The instructions are to walk 9 steps heel to toe on a designated straight line, without using the arms for balance, and counting the steps aloud, and then use the back foot to make small steps to turn around while keeping the front foot on the line, and then walk 9 steps along that same line, again counting the steps and not using the arms for balance. The walking segment combines the balancing of walking heel to toe on a straight line and turning on the back foot, along with the memory requirements of remembering how many steps they took and how to perform the turn.

To be blunt, even people with good balance who have no alcohol in their system could have difficulties with the walk and turn test, particularly if they have physical disabilities, or have vertigo or other inner ear problems. Additionally, although the officer is required to conduct the test on a flat, dry surface, away from the cruiser’s flashing lights, and away from traffic, which could be distracting, frequently these requirements are disregarded by the officer for the sake of expediency.

The key to passing this test (which almost never occurs based upon the reports of these tests prepared by local police officers) is that the person must avoid the following:

Not being able to maintain balance while listening to the instructions;
Starting too soon;
Stopping while walking the nine steps;
Stepping off the line while walking;
Not maintaining heel to toe;
Using arms to balance;
Losing balance on the turn or doing the turn wrong;

Taking an incorrect amount of steps.

If the person falls off the line 3 or more times, loses his balance, can’t remain on the line, or can’t compete the test for any other reason, they will fail the walk and turn.

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With the arrival of summer and longer daylight hours, families go to more parties and events. Motorists are charged with more DWIs in the summer, especially on the major summer holiday weekends – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. For the quarter-century that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been tracking car crash statistics, the Fourth of July has repeatedly ranked as the deadliest holiday of the year for alcohol-related car crashes. Approximately 50% of all fatal car crashes on the Fourth of July are related to alcohol. As the Fourth of July – the hallmark event of summer – approaches, the implications of the new DWI laws, particularly Leandra’s Law, will become even more evident.

The summer of 2011 will mark the first full summer that any driver convicted in New York of driving while intoxicated with a child younger than 16 years old in the vehicle will face penalties under the fully implemented Leandra’s Law, more formally known as the Child Passenger Protection Act (CPPA). New York is one of 36 states with special child endangerment laws that impose tougher sanctions on drivers who are driving with a child passenger while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The CPPA, first went into effect on December 18, 2009, making it a felony to drive while intoxicated with a passenger younger than 16 in the vehicle. The law is named after 11 year old Leandra Rosado, who died when a friend’s mother drove while intoxicated and was involved in a rollover accident. The second part of the CPPA became effective on August 15, 2010, requiring anyone convicted of DWI to drive only vehicles that are equipped with an interlock ignition device (IID), which must be installed and maintained at their own expense on any vehicle they own or operate for at least six months from the time of sentencing (but frequently for at least one year).

An interlock ignition device requires a driver to blow into an alcohol sensor before the car can be started, and requires the driver to provide breath samples at random intervals while driving. The IID includes a camera that takes pictures of the driver, and tracking that provide authorities with real-time information for the vehicle. The total cost for installation, six months of service, and removal can be over $1,000. The costs of the IID is in addition to fines, surcharges and DMV penalties of a DWI conviction. A first-time DWI conviction carries a fine of at least $500, a surcharge of $400.00, loss of a full driver’s license for at least six months, and attendance at the New York State DMV Drinking Driver Program (DDP) and MADD Victim Impact Panel.

It is important to advise all reading this blog that the authorities are aware that some drivers attempt to exploit loopholes in Leandra’s Law by transferring the title to the car, selling the car, or denying ownership, to avoid installing an IID. Further, there have been numerous cases of people tampering with interlock devices, attempting to have someone else blow into the device who is not intoxicated, or renting cars that are not equipped with the IID. In New York, drivers who are found to have either tampered with or in any way failed to comply with the IID requirements of their sentences will face a new Class A misdemeanor charge and up to one year in jail. In addition, anybody who helps a driver circumvent the law by blowing into a device so an intoxicated person can drive also faces a Class A misdemeanor charge if caught. Given the harsh consequences of DWI convictions, it is important that drivers arrested for any drunk driving charge contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

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I recently represented a client in a Mount Vernon DWI case. He had been charged with a DWI a few weeks before, and had no alternative options to get to work other than driving himself–he lives alone, has no local friends or family, and works in a location which does not have easily accessible public transportation. Further, taxis would be prohibitively expensive. Under normal circumstances, this would be a client who might very well be eligible for a “hardship license“, which privilege allows those charged with a DWI to drive to and from work, school, for medical treatment, and emergencies during the pendency of a DWI case.

However, the problem for this client is that he lost his eligibility for a hardship license due to his refusal to take a chemical test when the arresting officer asked him to take a breathalyzer. Clients frequently ask the question–“If I am asked to take the test, should I do it?” There are several factors which go into the decision whether or not to take a chemical test: Have you ever been convicted or pled guilty to a DWI before? Are you a commercial driver? Was there an accident involved? How much did you have to drink? The conventional wisdom among DWI lawyers seems to be that if there was an accident or if you have had a substantial amount to drink, it might be the wisest course of action to refuse the test. (The caveat being that in some cases the investigating police can obtain a Court order compelling a mandatory blood test even with a refusal, particularly if there was a bad accident.)

Commercial drivers will suffer much more serious consequences if found guilty of a refusal, (or any DWI related charge for that matter) and on a second refusal, can suffer permanent revocation of their commercial driver’s license, effectively ending their chosen livelihood. In summary, the decision whether to take a chemical test is a complicated one, and listening to people who don’t know any better telling you that it is always better to refuse is not a wise decision–the circumstances surrounding your case absolutely DO matter.

If you have not had much to drink, there was no accident, and you have not previously been convicted or pled guilty to a DWI, the wise course is to take the chemical test. Why? Because if you are found guilty of a refusal, you will have your license revoked for one year, and pay an additional fee of $500.00 to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Further, as in the case with my client, you will find yourself ineligible to obtain a hardship license while the criminal case is proceeding.

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On January 30, 12011, a 45 year old Ossining man became the first allegedly drunk driver in Westchester County to be indicted for violating the new ignition interlock provisions of Leandra’s Law, which went into effect last August. Leandra’s Law requires, among other things, that if a motorist is convicted or pleads guilty to DWI charges, he or she must install and maintain an ignition interlock device in their car for a minimum of 6 months. (In my experience, most Courts have been requiring that the device remain in the vehicle for one year). Additionally, the law mandates that if a driver is charged with driving while intoxicated with a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle, he must be charged with a felony.

In this case, Abel Pinto was arraigned in White Plains arising out of a police pursuit on January 30 on Route 9 in Cortlandt. Police arrested Mr. Pinto and charged him with DWI, aggravated DWI, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, and unsafe lane change infractions, and in a first, for operating a motor vehicle without a Court-ordered ignition interlock device, which is a misdemeanor. Apparently, Mr. Pinto had two previous convictions for DWI in the last 10 years, which mandated that he be changed with felony DWI.

Pinto is to return to Court on May 3, 2011. He could be sentenced to up to 7 years in state prison if convicted of the felony charges.

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Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy has installed a vigorous anti-DWI program since his tenure began in 2008. Levy, a former criminal defense lawyer, has worked with local police agencies in adopting a vehicle forfeiture program in felony DWI cases. Since implementation of the seizure plan in January of 2010, 29 vehicles have been taken from owners convicted of felony DWI. The vehicles are then sold at auction, with the proceeds split between local police agencies, the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (OASAS), and Putnam County.

Putnam County spent $30,000 buying a lot in Carmel where seized vehicles are stored. Other counties, including Westchester County and Rockland County, are installing the same forfeiture program. In Westchester County, no cars have yet been seized because the law is new and no convictions have apparently been obtained under the forfeiture provisions, which only involve arrests and convictions on county owned roads.

Putnam County had 553 DWI arrests in 2008, a significant increase from the 392 in 2007. Putnam hired an assistant district attorney with the specific role of supervising the forfeiture program. There is a financial hardship exception in which vehicles can be returned, such as in cases where the family has only one vehicle and other family members would face job loss or be unable to care for a relative with health problems unless they had access to the car. However, there will be a specific stipulation that the convicted motorist will be forbidden from operating the vehicle.

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According to a federal report in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost one in eight drivers 16 years of age or older drove while intoxicated in the last year. The study indicates that an estimated 30.6 million drivers were under the influence of alcohol, and 10.1 million admitted to being under the influence of drugs. The estimates were based on surveys of 213,350 motorists by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The survey also determined that DWI rates between 2006-2009 and 2002 through 2005 dropped from 14.6% to 13.2%. Comparing the same two time periods, DWAID (driving while impaired by drugs) fell from 4.8% to 4.3%.

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Last week, we posted on initial blog regarding the new ignition interlock requirements pursuant to Leandra’s Law, which went into effect on August 15, 2010. This article will discuss additional requirements and elements of the law. When you are sentenced to either a misdemeanor DWI or New York felony DWI, you must have the ignition interlock device (IID) installed within 10 days of your sentence. Once the IID is installed, you must report the installation within three days to the Court.

When you are ordered to install an IID, the Court will require that any vehicle you have access to (own or operate) has the device installed. Your conditional driver’s license, if you are eligible for one, will note that you are required to have an IID in your car. Thus, if you attempt to rent a car, the rental car facility must only rent you a vehicle equipped with an IID. If they do not do so, both you and the rental car ownership can be subject to a potential misdemeanor charge.

The device must be serviced on regular intervals as directed by the probation department, in order for information to be downloaded and provided to the sentencing Court, District Attorney’s office and county probation department. If you have one or more missed or failed start up tests or one or more failed or missed rolling tests, this can be the basis for re-sentencing by the Court. If you or someone else attempts to tamper with the device, disable the device, or if you have someone else blow for you, this can lead to a misdemeanor charge.

There is also a “lockout mode”, which is triggered if you fail or miss a start up test, re-test or fail or miss a rolling test or re-test. If you do not re-take the test and pass it within 5 days the car will go into lockout mode. When this happens, the only way the vehicle can be started again is to take it back to the installer and have the device reset.

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Effective August 15, 2010, there are new Ignition Interlock Device (IID) rules in effect for all New York DWI or Aggravated DWI cases. The rules apply to any motorist charged after December 18, 2009, and convicted or pleading guilty after August 15, 2010. The new law does not apply to convictions of New York driving while ability impaired (DWAI), which is a traffic infraction, but to all misdemeanor and felony DWI convictions.

The IID’s must be installed in all vehicles that the motorist owns or operates. This language is critical, as in many cases, the law will require that the person convicted of the felony or misdemeanor DWI install the IID in more than one vehicle, with family members such as spouses or grown children also having to utilize the IID in vehicles that they share with the driver convicted of the DWI.

The (IID) must remain in the vehicle for at least 6 months. It must be installed by a County approved installer. There are fees for both the installation and monthly maintenance of the IID, which must be paid by the driver. If you can prove, through a lengthy “Financial Disclosure Report”, that you are unable to pay for the IID, the County will pay for all costs involved.

The IID operates by requiring that a motorist blow into a ignition interlock device (IID) in order to start the ignition to the vehicle. If the IID detects a blood alcohol concentration of 0.25% or greater, the vehicle will not start. If there is a failed start up test, the driver is required to do a re-test within a few minutes. If the re-test is failed or missed, this violation will be recorded on the device and the information will be provided to the county probation department, the sentencing Court and the District Attorney’s Office.

Once the vehicle is started, the driver will be required to perform a re-test on regular intervals of approximately 15 to 30 minutes. If the test is failed, a “rolling re-test” must be passed within 3 minutes. If there a failed or missed rolling re-test, there will be a violation with the information being reported to the three entities described above.

In our next installment, we will discuss some potential violations and other related information about the IID.

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When charged with a New York drunk driving offense, under the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law your license will be automatically suspended at your first Court appearance under the doctrine “suspension pending prosecution.” In essence, since a license is a privilege, the Courts reverse the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and your driver’s license (or driving privileges in New York for out of state residents) is suspended at the arraignment regardless of the fact that you may win your case. From the date of the arraignment until the conclusion of the case, you will have no driving privileges whatsoever unless a hardship license is granted.

In order to obtain a hardship privilege, there are several factors which must be met to determine if you are eligible. Among these factors, you must not have refused to take a chemical test such as a breathalyzer, and you are not eligible if you have had a previous drunk driving conviction or plea within the last 5 years. To obtain a hardship license, you must testify at a “Hardship Hearing”, which is conducted by the judge within three days of your arraignment, but frequently, on the same day as the arraignment. Additionally, your testimony must be confirmed by a family member, friend or witness who can testify that without your driver’s license during the pendency of the case, you would suffer not just hardship, but “extreme hardship.”

At the hardship hearing, you must prove that you have no viable alternative means of getting to work other than driving yourself. Thus, the proof must be that public transportation or taxis are not available to you, or that financially, you could not afford to pay the cost of taxis, buses or trains based upon your salary or earnings. Thus, documentation proving what you earn, such as pay stubs or W2’s, are often utilized as evidence. Further, the additional witness must confirm that there are no family members, friends or co-workers that could drive you to work while the case is proceeding.

Hardship licenses are for a limited purpose–to allow you to drive to and from work, and only during the days and times permitted by the Court. If you work from Monday to Friday, you will not be permitted to use your hardship privilege on a weekend regardless of the reason. Hardship licenses are not available to salespeople or, for example, people that drive for a living and are required to make multiple stops–UPS drivers, truck drivers, or delivery people. In sum, the privilege only permits driving from home to work and back home, nothing more.

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In an eye opening article in the January 17, 2010 Journal News, several officers acknowledged off the record what many suspected for a long time: When off-duty police are stopped for Westchester DWI or traffic infractions, they are frequently helped out by other officers who get them a ride home and make sure their car is put in a safe place. The protection of intoxicated fellow officers is off the table when an accident is involved, since as one cop noted: That’s a situation that you can’t hide…I’m not going to risk my career in a case like that.” The officers who are stopped for DWI routinely refuse to take a breathalyzer, knowing that this will can significantly hamper the D.A.’s ability to prove a DWI case, despite the fact that the refusal carries with it a one year revocation of their operating privileges if proven at the DMV “Refusal Hearing.”

The issue of off duty cops driving drunk came to light as a result of a spate of four recent accidents involving Westchester police officers. On December 11, 2009, Dobbs Ferry Police Officer Michael Huffman was charged with DWI in a rollover accident in Tarrytown. On December 27th, there were two accidents–Westchester County Police Officer Joseph Kraus allegedly went through a red light in Scarsdale and struck the vehicle of on duty officer Jessica Knatz, who was hospitalized as a result of the accident, and County Correction Officer Patricia Yancy-Johnson is alleged to have struck an ambulance in Greenburgh. Lastly, on December 31, 2009, White Plains Police Officer Joe Zepeda is accused of striking a truck on I-287. All four officers are due back in Court between January 26th and February 5th, and all have been suspended by their departments, in Zepeda’s case without pay, pending the results of their criminal cases.

Westchester D.A. Janet DiFiore professed to be “very disappointed” to hear that officers anonymously admitted to covering for off-duty cops who drive while intoxicated, although she stated that she was “not surprised.” DiFiore also claimed to be looking to strengthen the penalties for refusal to take a chemical test, however, this would certainly seem to be beyond her purview as this is a provision of New York’s Vehicle & Traffic Law which would have to be amended by the New York State Legislature, not a local D.A.

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