Press-Republican

Guest Column

October 17, 2013

The Law and You: Oct. 17, 2013

Perhaps you’ve noticed news items about someone being arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New York, and the story includes that there was a child in the vehicle. 

Now, the presence of a child who is 15 or younger raises a DWI charge to a felony.

In the past, a first DWI or driving while ability impaired by drugs (DWAI Drugs) would be a misdemeanor. 

However, now any misdemeanor DWI or DWAI Drugs, even a first offense, is automatically raised to a felony if there is a child younger than 16 in the motor vehicle. 

The felony is charged if there is a blood alcohol (BAC) of .08 or higher or if there is other evidence of intoxication by alcohol or impairment by drugs.

11-YEAR-OLD DIED

This new crime, Aggravated DWI/Child in Vehicle, is part of Leandra’s Law, which became effective in August 2010. It is also called the Child Passenger Protection Act, named so after an 11-year-old-girl who was killed while riding in a car driven by a friend of her mother; six other kids were injured in that crash.

This new felony applies to every alcohol-intoxicated or drug-impaired driver with a child in the vehicle. 

Parents who consume alcohol and then drive their kids anywhere are risking a felony. So are teenagers driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a 15-year-old in the car. 

If the defendant is convicted of a felony, the sentence options include up to four years in state prison, up to one year in county jail or five years of probation with or without jail time, as well as a mandatory $5,000 fine and other fees.

SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH

If a child passenger suffers serious injury in such an accident, a driver under the influence of alcohol or impaired by drugs can be charged with a higher-level felony that carries up to 15 years in state prison. 

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