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As a general rule, you shouldn’t drink and drive. However if, by some evil twist of fate, you find yourself intoxicated and behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, you should hope that you aren’t in the state of New York. Drinking and driving in this particular locale is an action attached to some highly punitive measures—and for good reason. Home to a capital which many attest is the busiest and most diverse place in the country, New York state itself isn’t compressed by any means; in fact, it hosts over 1,600 miles of interstate highway system and is bordered by five other states. No matter which direction you’re going—and no matter what type of alcohol you’re consuming—you should plan on avoiding a DWI charge at all costs.

Misdemeanors vs Felonies

If you are charged with a DWI in the state of New York, the first thing to determine is whether your case will be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. This fact is going to decide a lot of shit about the potential outcome of your case: the dollar amount you’ll owe to the government, the supplemental education you’ll be assigned to receive, the number of months you’ll be barred from driving—yeah, the shit you care about.

First-time offense usually = a misdemeanor

Usually, as a first-time offender, your case will be treated as a misdemeanor. A few factors can affect this and make your first-time offense reach the Felony level, like for example if you have a child in the backseat, or if you’re impaired by a combined influence of alcohol and drugs. Generally though, a first-time offense is misdemeanor status.

So…what is actually illegal in New York?

“OK, great,” you might be thinking. “So what is actually illegal in New York? I mean, come on—I’m not really a lightweight.” Glad you asked. While a variety of factors can play into an officer’s initial assessment of your drunkenness such as basic elements of your personality and your intoxicated ability to walk in a straight line, we’re going to take it straight to the breathalyzer on this one. As for the levels of blood alcohol concentration that would make you legally incapable of operating a vehicle, you’re going to want to refer to these three criteria:

  • 0.08% or higher if you are 21 years of age or older
  • 0.04% or higher if you drive a commercial vehicle
  • 0.02% or higher if you’re younger than 21

It’s true; like many other states, New York abides by a Zero Tolerance Law, meaning that if you’re not old enough to legally drink and you’re charged with a DWI, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll hold onto your license following the incident. While you can’t actually face any jail time for such an offense, you can still face a monetary fine and a six-month suspension of your license.

If you do it again (please, someone, find this kid a goddamn counselor or father figure or something), your license could be fully revoked—meaning you’ll have to reapply and test for it all over again—for one year, or until you’re 21.

Is the punishment really that severe?

The short answer is: Yes. For more detailed points of reference, see the breakdown below. If you don’t have time to read it right now, just know this: If you’re going to drink and drive in New York, it helps to have deep pockets.

First offense: Misdemeanor. You are facing license suspension for up to 90 days, up to 15 days in jail, possible enrollment in an NY Drinking Driver Program, and fines. The fines in question can run up to about $1,000 on your first offense—the combined total of a flat one-time fine and of three annual assessment fines associated with the Driver Responsibility Program, which amount to $250 each over three years.

Second offense: A misdemeanor offense if it occurs at least 10 years after the first charge. Otherwise, surprise! It’s a felony. The base fine for this sort of charge is $500 and can run as high as $750, plus those lovely annual assessment fines. You’ll also be facing license revocation for up to six months, a penalty upon your license which is decidedly worse than simply get it suspended since you will need to reapply for it once that time is up. You can also be jailed for up to a month and be enrolled in a Drinking Driver Program.

Worst-case scenarios: As one might expect, there are a handful of other scenarios that would be attached to more extreme penalties when it comes to drinking and driving. For example, intoxication behind the wheel that is strictly drug-related or drink and drug-related are often associated with much weightier jail sentences and longer license suspensions and revocations.

Aggravated DWI’s: An A-DWI, or an Aggravated DWI, occurs anytime one’s BAC is 0.18 or higher. This sort of a charge, commonly known as the moment common sense dictates that you should not be behind the wheel of a car, is attached to a minimum fine of $1,000 which may not exceed $1,500, plus annual assessment fines, a license suspension/revocation for at least one year and, depending on whether you’re a first-time offender or not, up to four years in jail.

Bonus Charges

They’re just as fun as you might imagine! New York’s driving laws also operate on the basis of “Implied Consent”, which dictates an officer’s right to test your blood, breath, urine, or saliva on the spot. If you happen to not know this and decide to refuse due to your overwhelming paranoia as well as to that most recent shot of Bacardi, you could automatically face a whole host of other penalties, including but not limited to hundreds of dollars in “civil penalties” or even suspension of your license.

“Driver Responsibility” Program?? Huh?

This is where getting a good lawyer can seriously help you. In New York, the DMV and the state court systems work together to ensure that high-risk motorists are monitored and penalized accordingly if they are repeatedly irresponsible on the roads. The driver assessment program, which was instituted in 2004, is basically a tax guide, requiring that certain offenders pay those pesky annual fines three years after being charged that we made mention of above. You fall into this category if:

  • You have six or more points on your record,
  • You are actually convicted of a DWI charge, or
  • You refused a chemical test

The exact amount of money you’ll be responsible for paying every year depends entirely on the types of charges on your record and the amount of time which passed while you accrued said points. It’s complicated. Of course, if you believe you’re in any sort of gray area when a DWI charge comes into play, it would be wise to seek legal help so as to best identify and address your needs as a defendant.

When to get a lawyer

A quick Google search illustrates the sheer number of practicing attorneys in the state of New York who are armed and ready to take on your DWI charge—mainly because, as we’ve learned today, it sucks to get caught drinking and driving here!

Even if you feel the DWI charge you’re faced with is something you wholeheartedly deserve, it is often worth contesting some of the penalties attached to it. When you get into the actual details surrounding your arrest, you may be able to find certain disputable facts surrounding the officer’s actions while arresting you and even the capability of their equipment. Seriously—the details matter. For example, can the state prove that you in fact put the “D” in DWI? In other words, were you operating the vehicle at the time of your arrest and by default of the moment of your intoxication…or were you just sitting in your car, being drunk? Or, did the officer fail to read you your Miranda Rights? If so, any evidence acquired after the fact is by default invalid for use in a court of law, no matter how incriminating it may be.

Jail time and financial damage are two serious reasons to avoid the full wrath of the state. The mere act of going through the motions through the state’s justice system is painful enough and can teach a valuable lesson. However it is worth noting that the driver reform programs provided by the state can be beneficial, and are at times advisable, even if you do not believe you deserve more lasting and painful penalties. Don’t hesitate to get the help you need.

Never fear, BernieSez is here

No matter what events transpired before you got charged with drinking and driving in the state of New York, BernieSez is a great place to get some advice regarding your case or enlist the help of a licensed professional. Upload information pertaining to your charges to the site, and it will be viewable by local men and women of the law. Match with your lawyer today and get started on your path towards the better side of justice.