The History of DWI and How it Affects You

I have been working in the area of vehicle and traffic and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in one capacity or another since 1961 (not a typo). I spent twenty years as a New York State Trooper (retired); seven years as a part time City Court Judge in the city of Mechanicville, New York, and twenty-seven years as a practicing defense attorney with an emphasis on the vehicle and traffic law, and Driving While Intoxicated.

Trooper car When I first started my career as a trooper, the attitude of the public, police, prosecutors, court and the legislators was “There but for the grace of God go I”. It was not unusual for police officers to “take the drunk home”. This is understandable, since it was also not uncommon, when a DWI arrest was made, for the prosecutor and court to agree to a plea bargain, which at the time did not involve any impact on the defendant’s license.

Through the efforts of groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) and Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID), the laws involving intoxicated drivers have been tightened and modified, and continue to be evolved to more accurately reflect the seriousness of the crime of DWI.

Blood test.jpg Easily one of the most active areas of law enforcement is in the statutes involving Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). When I became a state trooper, the Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) to establish intoxicated driving was 0.15 %. This was lowered to 0.12%, then to 0.10 %, and finally to 0.08%, at which it remains.

Law enforcement officers have engaged in an emphasis on making the arrest. Prosecutors will prosecute all arrests to the fullest extent supported by the evidence, and judges will impose strict penalties upon a conviction.

It is impossible to generate any level of sympathy from the police, prosecutors, judges and legislators for drunk drivers, especially involving repeat offenders.

In New York State, the penalties for an alcohol or drug-related violation include the loss of driving privileges, fines, and a possible jail term. Three or more alcohol or drug-related convictions or refusals within 10 years can result in permanent revocation of your driver’s license. Greater penalties can also apply for multiple alcohol or drug violations within a 25-year period, with fines as high as $10,000 and a jail term up to 7 years.

Statutes have taken effect to:

  • Increase the level of the crime based on the BAC level, prior record, and presence of a child in the car when the crime was committed (known as Leandra’s Law), are only a few of the amendments to existing laws to place the emphasis on enforcement, rehabilitation and punishment
  • Enforce prompt suspension statutes requiring the immediate suspension of a motorist’s license pending prosecution
  • Restrict Plea Bargaining
  • Require attendance at a Drinking Driver Program (DDP) and a Victim Impact Program (VIP) Thumbnail image for Jim It has become more important for a motorist accused of DWI to engage the service of an experienced attorney to assist in navigating the statutory changes, and understanding the policy of prosecutors, which are at times more restrictive than the statute. Remember, nobody is entitled to a plea bargain.The era of “There but for the grace of God go I” is over.
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