April 9, 2010

Strengthening DWI Laws

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In December 2009, Governor Paterson made New York one of the country’s toughest states against drunk driving. The new law mainly protects children from the dangers of driving while intoxicated but the legislation also includes a provision that requires all DWI offenders to install a mandatory ignition interlock device in their vehicles. While Leandra’s law will likely deter driving drunk with children in the vehicle, some believe it will have little effect on decreasing one of the state’s most dangerous offenses.

Leandra’s Law makes it a felony to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a child passenger age 15 or younger. The law merely enhances the minimum sentence in connection with the previous driving while intoxicated statute. Thus, the defendant is automatically sentenced pursuant to the new sentencing guidelines set forth in Leandra’s Law. Interestingly, the law is not applicable to driving while ability impaired by drug use. Any person who allegedly operated a motor vehicle while intoxicated and transporting a child may be charged with a Class E Felony. In the event that reckless driving and death or serious physical injury are not factors, an individual will automatically be charged with a class E felony. This will bring a maximum state prison sentence of up to four years and a fine of $1000 to $5000.

The installation of a mandatory ignition interlock device for a term of at least six months is also an expected provision of sentencing (mandatory for all DWI offenses August 15, 2010). Moreover, licenses are automatically suspended pending prosecution and once proven guilty, the person will be reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment and his/her license will be suspended for a minimum of twelve months. First time and repeat offenders are charged with an E level felony, regardless of criminal record.

There are currently no cases that have been decided under the new law. However, five cases are pending in the Buffalo area, all involving female defendants. One involves a mother who refused a breathalyzer and is awaiting trial. After picking up her kids from school, the mother ran several red lights and eventually came to a screeching halt after police chased her down. Recently, there was a case involving a Syracuse grandmother who was arrested under the law after driving drunk with all four of her grandchildren in the car. Some believe the new law is a waste of time such as this discontented New Yorker. “Way to go, DA Fitzpatrick; another dangerous criminal taken out of circulation. Once you have all the grandmas in lockup, maybe you will have time to get rid of the drug dealers”. http://www.cnycentral.com/news/news_story.aspx?id=429421

Driving drunk is a substantial offense when considering those who become victims of this stupidity. Approximately 30% of Americans will be involved in an alcohol related accident and 40% of all fatal car crashes are alcohol related each year. http://dui.lifetips.com/cat/61352/drunk-driving-facts-stats/index.html. With these facts in mind, Leandra’s Law seems like a simple measure for changing the statistics. Should New York focus on more heinous crimes or is Leandra’s law a crucial step in protecting the state’s most helpless population?

Original Author: Sara Furguson