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New York DWI Guide

Facing a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charge in New York can be a daunting experience, filled with uncertainties about the future. At Trbovich Law Firm, we understand the anxiety and fear that come with such charges and are committed to providing our clients with a comprehensive defense strategy. This guide offers an overview of DWI laws in New York, the potential consequences of a DWI conviction, and how our firm can assist you in navigating this challenging time. For immediate assistance, contact us today.

What Constitutes a DWI in New York State?

New York DWI Guide

In New York State, driving while intoxicated (DWI) refers to operating a motor vehicle when the effects of alcohol or drugs have impaired your ability to drive. New York defines several specific offenses under the umbrella of DWI, each with different criteria and penalties. Understanding what constitutes a DWI in New York can help you navigate the legal implications should you or someone you know face such charges.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Levels

The most straightforward measure for DWI is a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level, with the following thresholds defining different offenses:

  • DWI: Driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
  • Aggravated DWI: Driving with a BAC of 0.18% or higher.
  • Commercial DWI: Driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.
  • Underage DWI (Zero Tolerance Law): Drivers under the age of 21 operating a vehicle with a BAC between 0.02% and 0.07%.

Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI)

New York also has a category called Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI), which involves lower levels of intoxication than a typical DWI:

  • DWAI/Alcohol: Driving with a BAC of more than 0.05% but less than 0.07%, or other evidence of impairment.
  • DWAI/Drugs: Driving while ability impaired by a drug other than alcohol.
  • DWAI/Combination: Driving while ability impaired by a combination of alcohol and drugs.

Drug-Related Impairment

Beyond alcohol, driving under the influence of both illegal drugs and certain legal medications can lead to a DWI charge if those substances impair your ability to drive. This can be determined through behavior observation, physical symptoms, and performance on field sobriety tests, as well as chemical tests for substances other than alcohol.

What is the Arrest Process for a DWI?

The arrest process for a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charge involves several key steps, each governed by legal procedures that protect the rights of the accused while enabling law enforcement to enforce drunk driving laws. Here’s a general overview of what typically happens during a DWI arrest:

1. Vehicle Stop

A DWI arrest usually begins with a traffic stop. Law enforcement officers may pull a vehicle over if they observe signs of impaired driving, such as swerving, speeding, slow driving, failing to obey traffic signs, or if they have information from a checkpoint or tip. The officer must reasonably suspect that the driver has violated the law to make the stop.

2. Observation and Interaction

After stopping the vehicle, the officer will interact with the driver to observe any signs of intoxication or impairment. These signs might include the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, glassy or bloodshot eyes, slow motor responses, and inconsistent or illogical answers to questions. During this interaction, the officer gathers evidence to support a belief that the driver is impaired.

3. Field Sobriety Tests

If the officer suspects alcohol or drug impairment, they may ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests. These tests can include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test. These are designed to assess balance, coordination, and the ability to follow instructions—skills often impaired by alcohol or drugs.

What a Field Sobriety Test Entails

Law enforcement officers commonly use field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) during a traffic stop to help determine whether a driver is impaired. These tests are designed to assess balance, coordination, and the ability to perform tasks often impaired by alcohol or drugs. There are three standardized tests endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which are widely used in the United States:

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

The HGN test involves observing the eyes of the driver as they follow a moving object, usually a pen or flashlight, horizontally with their eyes. The officer looks for signs of nystagmus, an involuntary jerking of the eyeball, which can become pronounced under the influence of alcohol. The officer will check for:

  • The smoothness of the eye’s tracking: The eye should smoothly follow the object. If the eye exhibits jerking or twitching, this is noted as a sign of impairment.
  • Distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation: When the eye is looking as far to the side as possible, jerking should be minimal in sober individuals.
  • The angle of onset of nystagmus: The point at which the eye begins to jerk as it moves to the side. The sooner the jerking begins, the higher the likelihood of impairment.

Walk-and-Turn Test

This test assesses the ability to perform tasks requiring attention, balance, and coordination. The driver is instructed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the same manner. The officer will look for signs such as:

  • Inability to maintain balance while listening to instructions
  • Starting before the instructions are finished
  • Stopping while walking to regain balance
  • Not touching heel-to-toe
  • Stepping off the line
  • Using arms to balance
  • Making an improper turn
  • Taking an incorrect number of steps

One-Leg Stand Test

In the one-leg stand test, the driver is asked to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (One thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. Indicators of impairment include:

  • Swaying while balancing
  • Using arms to balance
  • Hopping to maintain balance
  • Putting the foot down

Reliability and Challenges

While these tests are standardized, their accuracy can be influenced by various factors, including the driver's age, weight, physical condition, footwear, or road conditions. Furthermore, nervousness and fatigue can also affect performance. Experienced DWI defense attorneys often challenge the validity of FST results based on these factors.

Knowing Your Rights

It’s important to note that you have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests, although this can sometimes lead to arrest based on other evidence of impairment observed by the officer. However, refusing these tests may also mean less potential evidence to be used against you in court. Knowing your rights and the implications of performing or refusing FSTs is crucial when stopped under suspicion of DWI.

Understanding what field sobriety tests involve and what your rights are can significantly impact the outcome of a DWI stop. If you face such a situation, consulting with a knowledgeable DWI attorney who can provide advice and representation based on your specific circumstances is highly advisable.

4. Breath and Blood Tests

Breath and blood tests are critical tools used by law enforcement to measure a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) or detect the presence of drugs in cases involving suspected driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Understanding how these tests work, their legal implications and potential issues can help you navigate a DUI/DWI situation more effectively.

Breath Tests

  • How They Work: Breath tests are commonly administered using a breathalyzer, which analyzes a sample of your breath to estimate your BAC. The device uses a chemical reaction involving alcohol that produces a color change, which is then measured electronically to give a BAC reading. The most widely used breathalyzer is based on infrared spectroscopy, which identifies molecules based on how they absorb light.
  • Usage: Breath tests are typically used at traffic stops and police stations after an officer suspects DUI based on observation, behavior, or field sobriety tests. These devices are preferred for their non-invasiveness and immediate results.
  • Legal Considerations: In many jurisdictions, drivers have implicitly consented to submit to breath tests by virtue of driving on public roads. Refusing a breath test can lead to automatic penalties such as license suspension and fines, independent of the outcome of any DUI charges, under "implied consent" laws.
  • Challenges: Breath test results can be contested in court. Challenges may focus on:
  • Calibration and maintenance issues: Improperly calibrated or maintained machines can yield inaccurate results.
  • Operator error: Incorrect use by the officer administering the test.
  • Physiological factors: Medical conditions like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or diets (such as keto diets producing ketones that can be mistaken for alcohol).

Blood Tests

  • How They Work: Blood tests involve drawing blood from a person to measure the actual amount of alcohol or drugs in the bloodstream at the time the sample is taken. These tests are generally more accurate than breath tests and can detect both alcohol and drugs.
  • Usage: Blood tests are often used in serious cases (e.g., accidents involving injuries or fatalities) or when breath tests are impractical or inconclusive. They require trained medical personnel to collect the sample, typically in a controlled environment like a hospital or police station.
  • Legal Considerations: A blood test usually requires consent from the person or a valid warrant from a judge, except in certain emergencies. Refusal to submit to a blood test can also be subject to penalties under implied consent laws.
  • Challenges: Like breath tests, the results of blood tests can be contested. Defense arguments might include:
  • Chain of custody issues: Mistakes in handling, storage, or analysis of blood samples can contaminate the sample or mix up results.
  • Timing of the test: Delay in administering the test can mean that the test results do not accurately reflect the BAC at the time of driving.
  • Medical and procedural errors: Improper drawing of blood or tainted analysis can skew results.

5. Arrest

If the officer believes there is sufficient evidence of DWI based on observations, field sobriety tests, and the preliminary breath test, they will place the driver under arrest for DWI. The driver is typically handcuffed, informed of their rights (Miranda rights), and transported to a police station or jail.

6. Chemical Testing

Once at the station, the accused is usually asked to undergo a formal chemical test, typically a breathalyzer or a blood test, to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) or detect the presence of drugs. Under the implied consent law in many jurisdictions, refusal to submit to this test can result in automatic license suspension and other penalties independent of the DWI charge results.

7. Booking

The booking process involves recording the suspect’s personal information, taking photographs and fingerprints, and officially noting the charges against them. At this point, the suspect might be held in custody or released on bail, depending on the jurisdiction's rules and the case's specifics.

8. Arraignment

The first court appearance after an arrest is called an arraignment. During this proceeding, the charges will be formally read, and the defendant can enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). The court may also review bail and set dates for future proceedings.

What is Implied Consent

Implied consent is a legal doctrine commonly used in the context of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws. It means that by choosing to drive on public roads, a driver implicitly agrees to submit to chemical testing (like breath, blood, or urine tests) to determine impairment from alcohol or drugs if lawfully requested by a police officer. Here's how implied consent plays out, particularly in the United States:

Basis of Implied Consent

Implied consent laws are enacted at the state level and are intended to facilitate the enforcement of DUI/DWI laws by making it easier for police to obtain evidence of intoxication or impairment. The logic behind these laws is rooted in public safety concerns; driving is considered a privilege, not a right, and keeping impaired drivers off the road is seen as a critical safety measure.

How Implied Consent Works

When a driver obtains a driver’s license and uses public roadways, they automatically agree to certain conditions as part of this privilege. One of these conditions is that if an officer suspects them of driving while impaired, they must consent to chemical testing to check their BAC or presence of drugs.

Consequences of Refusing a Test

Refusal to comply with chemical testing when lawfully requested can lead to automatic penalties, regardless of whether the driver was actually impaired. These penalties can include:

  • License Suspension: This is one of the most immediate and common penalties. The suspension period varies by state but typically ranges from several months to a year or more for a first refusal.
  • Fines and Fees: Some states impose fines or administrative fees on drivers who refuse testing.
  • Mandatory Ignition Interlock Devices: In some jurisdictions, refusing a test might result in the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in the driver’s vehicle.
  • Enhanced Penalties: If the case goes to court and the driver is found guilty of DUI/DWI, the fact that they refused the test can lead to harsher penalties than they might have received if they had complied.

Implied Consent and Legal Defenses

While implied consent laws are designed to deter refusal of chemical tests, they are not without controversy, particularly concerning individual rights. Defendants can and do challenge the legality of implied consent laws, often on grounds such as:

  • Constitutionality: Arguments may be made that implied consent laws violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
  • Improper Administration: Defendants might argue that the officer did not follow proper legal procedures in requesting the test or informing the driver of the consequences of refusal.
  • Medical Inability: In some cases, a defendant may be physically unable to submit to the test, such as due to a medical condition, and this can be used as a defense against penalties for refusal.

What About Drug DUIs?

Driving under the influence of drugs (drug DUI) is treated with the same severity and concern as driving under the influence of alcohol. The key difference is that a drug DUI involves the impairment of a driver due to the use of illegal drugs, prescription medications, or even over-the-counter medicines rather than alcohol. Here's a breakdown of important aspects concerning drug DUIs:

Legal Definition of Drug DUI

A drug DUI, often referred to legally as "driving under the influence of drugs" (DUID), occurs when a driver operates a vehicle while impaired by any type of drug. This can include:

  • Illegal drugs: such as marijuana (though legal in some states, it’s still a basis for DUI), cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
  • Prescription medications: such as opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines, even if they are taken according to a doctor’s prescription.
  • Over-the-counter medications: such as antihistamines or cough syrups that can impair driving ability.

How Impairment is Determined

Unlike alcohol-related DUI, where impairment can be quantified with a breathalyzer test to measure a specific blood alcohol concentration (BAC), drug impairment is more complex to measure and prove. Methods include:

  • Field Sobriety Tests: Officers may use standard field sobriety tests to assess a driver’s physical and cognitive functions.
  • Drug Recognition Experts (DREs): Specially trained officers who can identify drug impairment based on physical signs and symptoms.
  • Chemical Tests: Blood, urine, or saliva tests are used to detect the presence of drugs. However, these tests can show the presence of drugs but not necessarily current impairment.

Legal Consequences

The penalties for a drug DUI can be severe and may include:

  • License suspension or revocation.
  • Fines and jail time, which can increase significantly with subsequent offenses.
  • Mandatory drug education or rehabilitation programs.
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device, even though it does not detect drugs, as a probationary measure.
  • Permanent criminal record, which can affect employment and other areas of personal life.

Challenges in Prosecution and Defense

Prosecuting drug DUI cases involves certain challenges, primarily around proving that the driver was indeed impaired:

  • Lack of standardized impairment levels: Unlike alcohol, there is no "legal limit" for drugs, which makes it difficult to standardize what constitutes impairment.
  • Timing of drug effects: The effects of drugs vary widely based on type, dosage, and the individual's metabolism. A person might test positive for a drug they consumed days ago, even if they are no longer under its influence.
  • Variability in drug effects: Different drugs affect individuals in different ways, and proving that a person was impaired at the time of driving can be complicated.

Given these complexities, defenses in drug DUI cases often focus on questioning the accuracy and relevance of drug test results, the qualifications of the officers conducting the assessments, or the constitutional validity of the traffic stop and subsequent search and testing.

Common Penalties for DUI/DWI

1. Fines

Monetary fines for a DUI/DWI can vary widely but typically range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. The amount can increase substantially with repeat offenses or if there are aggravating circumstances.

2. License Suspension or Revocation

A DUI/DWI almost always results in at least a temporary suspension of your driving privileges. The length of suspension can vary:

  • First offense: Typically ranges from 3 to 12 months.
  • Repeat offenses: Can lead to longer suspensions or even permanent revocation.

3. Jail Time

Incarceration is a possibility, particularly for repeat offenders or if the DUI/DWI involved an accident with injuries or fatalities:

  • First offense: Jail time may be minimal or not required, depending on state laws and the specifics of the case.
  • Subsequent offenses: Likely to result in longer periods of incarceration.

4. Probation

Probation is a common penalty, often in conjunction with or in place of jail time. It comes with conditions like not committing more crimes, maintaining employment, attending counseling, and submitting to random drug and alcohol tests.

5. Mandatory Educational Programs or Treatment

Many jurisdictions require offenders to participate in DUI/DWI educational programs, drug and alcohol counseling, or treatment programs, especially if substance abuse issues are evident.

6. Community Service

Community service can be mandated as part of the penalties or as an alternative to fines or jail time.

7. Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

Especially for alcohol-related offenses, an ignition interlock device may be required to be installed in the offender’s vehicle. This device requires the driver to pass a breathalyzer test before the engine will start.

Additional Consequences

Increased Insurance Rates

A DUI/DWI conviction will almost certainly lead to higher auto insurance premiums. Some insurance companies may even terminate coverage.

Criminal Record

Having a DUI/DWI conviction on your record can impact job prospects, especially for jobs that require driving or where a clean record is essential.

Travel Restrictions

Some countries, notably Canada, may deny entry to people with a DUI/DWI conviction.

  • Aggravating Factors That Can Increase Penalties
  • High Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
  • Minors in the Vehicle
  • Causing an Accident, Particularly With Injuries or Fatalities

Having a Suspended or Revoked License

Given the severity and variety of penalties associated with a DUI/DWI conviction and the complex nature of DUI/DWI law, it is highly advisable to seek legal representation. An experienced DUI/DWI attorney can help navigate the legal system, potentially reduce the penalties, or sometimes challenge the charges entirely.

Facing DUI/DWI Charges? Don't Risk Your Future – Act Now!

If you're dealing with DUI or DWI charges, every decision counts. Contact Trbovich Law Firm today to secure experienced legal representation that can make a difference. Our skilled attorneys understand the complexities of DUI/DWI cases and will fight to protect your rights and minimize the impact on your life. Call us now for a consultation and take the first step toward confidently managing your case.

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