NY drops tougher DWI penalty proposal but new law still possible

New York already has severe punishments for drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated. And legislators and the governor are considering making a DWI conviction even more detrimental to the driver. As part of his budget proposal in January, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed toughening texting while driving punishments for drivers under the age of 21. In addition, he proposed imposing a five-year license suspension for drivers who receive two drunk-driving convictions in three years. Three drunk driving convictions in a lifetime would have brought a permanent license suspension.

The final budget, passed Monday, March 31, included the texting while driving measure but the DWI proposal was ultimately dropped from the budget. However, legislators are likely to consider the issue again before the 2014 legislative session ends. Tougher DWI laws have broad support from the public and legislators. Last year the State Senate passed a measure requiring mandatory jail time for repeat DWI offenders, for example.

"You can never be tough enough on drunk drivers, especially recidivist drivers," said Robert Sinclair, a spokesperson for AAA New York, after the budget was passed.

DWI enforcement remains stringent in New York

While the DWI measures proposed in the budget did not pass, DWI enforcement and strong punishments remain a priority for law enforcement and politicians. A first-time DWI conviction brings a license suspension of at least six months, while a second brings a year-long suspension. It is also still possible to receive a permanent license suspension if convicted of three or more drunk driving convictions, but a lifetime revocation is not currently mandatory.

Refusing a blood, breath or urine chemical test brings a yearlong license suspension, even if there are no previous DWI convictions in the driver's history.

A driver's license suspension is no small matter. Often, in order to be able to get to work or complete necessary errands, a person convicted of a DWI in New York must install an ignition interlock device, a breath-test instrument that requires the driver blow into it to test his or her alcohol level. If there is any alcohol in the driver's system the car will not start.

In addition to license suspensions, drivers convicted of DWI face a fine of, at minimum, $500. Those fines increase if there is a high alcohol concentration in the driver's system, there is a history of DWI or if there were minors in the vehicle at the time of arrest.

A criminal defense lawyer can help

A DWI conviction can affect all aspects of a person's life. Those facing DWI charges should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to possibly avoid losing a job, driving privileges or even one's freedom.