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Questions About DWI

As a Hudson Valley criminal defense attorney, I am often asked about Driving While Intoxicated (“DWI”) cases.  Hudson Valley residents have an array of questions regarding DWI that they can’t wait to pose to an attorney.  The questions include those about whether to blow in the breathalyzer (usually, but not always), how to answer the police officer’s questions (don’t!), and, to a surprisingly lesser extent, the consequences of a DWI.

The questions I receive the most are about procedural things.   Questions like:  “How do I answer questions about where I’ve been?” or  “What happens if I refuse to do the walk-and-turn?” abound.  Those with sarcastic or comedic personalities ask me:  “Can anybody say the alphabet backwards, even when sober?”

In any event, I am asked much less about the consequences of a DWI conviction.  With the summer approaching along with all of its extended social activities such as barbeques, beach trips and concerts, it is helpful to understand the various forms of alcohol related driving offenses and their consequences.  Note that there are separate consequences for drug-related driving offenses that are not the subject of this blog.

The most basic alcohol related driving offense is that of Driving While Ability (is) Impaired (“DWAI”).  In New York, intoxication is presumed at a level of .08 blood alcohol content (“BAC”).  Even if the driver is below that limit, if they are driving while their senses are in any way impaired by alcohol, they can be convicted of DWAI.  It is a non-criminal offense, yet is very serious.  A first offense can result in 15 days in jail, or more likely a fine of $300 to $500, additional court surcharges, a 90-day suspension of the driver’s license, a $750 driver’s assessment payable in three annual installments of $250 to the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) and additional costs to participate in the DMV’s Intoxicated Driver’s Program (“IDP”) through which a conditional license can be obtained to allow driving to work during the 90-day suspension.

Criminality begins at intoxication.  A person is guilty of Driving While Intoxication (“DWI”) if they are driving at a .08% or more BAC or are observed driving in a state where they appear “drunk”.  A first offender is guilty of a misdemeanor crime and can be sentenced to up to 1 year in jail, 3 years of probation, a fine of $500 to $1,000, additional court surcharges, or a combination of these.  The $750 DMV assessment and the IDP costs also apply.  In addition, they will have their license revoked for six (6) months and will have to install an ignition interlock in any vehicle they have access to, regardless of who owns the vehicle.

Beyond the basic DWI conviction is the aggravated DWI conviction, of which there are two (2) types.  Misdemeanor aggravated DWI occurs when one is operating a vehicle with a BAC of .18% or more.  This person is subject to a jail term of 1 year, probation for 3 years, a fine of $1,000 to $2,500, additional court surcharges, or a combination of these.  There will be a revocation of the driver’s license for one (1) year and a requirement to install ignition interlock. The DMV assessment and IDP costs also apply.

Felony aggravated DWI occurs when the driver commits a DWI offense while driving with a child under the age of 16 in the car.  This subjects the driver to a state prison sentence of up to 1 and 1/3 to 4 years.  The driver may instead be sentenced to county jail time of up to 1 year, probation of up to 5 years, or a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, and additional court surcharges.  There will be a revocation of the driver’s license for 1 year at a minimum, but, if on probation, the driver may not be allowed to reapply for a driver’s license during the entire term of probation.  There will also be ignition interlock and a DMV assessment.

The above are the basic alcohol-related driving offenses and consequences for first-offenders over the age of 21 in New York.  Multiple offenses can lead to elevated consequences.  For example, 2 DWI convictions in 10 years can lead to conviction for a Class “E” felony, for which one can be sentenced to state prison for up to 1 and 1/3 to 4 years.  Three DWI convictions in 10 years can be a Class “D” felony, which means one can be sentenced to state prison for up to 2 and 1/3 to 7 years.  In addition, drivers under the age of 21 are subject to the “zero tolerance” law, which lowers the BAC levels at which alcohol-related driving brings consequences, and increases the license sanctions for alcohol-related driving.

The sum of all of this is that an alcohol-related driving offense can have enormous consequences.  It will most certainly require the assistance of a qualified Hudson Valley DWI defense attorney.  The fees to the attorney and the fines and charges described above are way beyond the cost of a taxicab or an Uber home, and it is advisable to keep this in mind this summer.

This is not intended to be legal advice.  You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your specific situation.


Christopher J. Cardinale is an associate attorney with the firm and practices Family, Matrimonial and Criminal Law.

He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.[/column] Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmail

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