A new law that mandates drunken drivers on probation or conditional discharge have alcohol-check devices installed in their vehicles might be costly to local counties.

Some county officials say this unfunded state mandate will increase Probation Department caseloads and may leave counties paying the $125 to $350 cost for ignition-interlock devices for the indigent.

There are also fees: $75 to $100 for installation, a de-installation charge when the probation term expires and a monthly monitoring cost that ranges from $75 to $110.

Probation directors are upset by the mandate, which takes effect Aug. 15, saying there is not enough time to meet a state deadline of June 15 to show how they will implement the new law.

DELAY SOUGHT

Franklin County Probation Director Judy Hayle persuaded legislators to pass a resolution Thursday to urge Gov. David Paterson, the Senate and Assembly to delay the program until it can establish who will pay for and monitor the program.

She said 20 counties sent objections, and six more are working on them.

Both Essex County and Clinton County adopted similar resolutions, but it may do little good, said Clinton County Probation Director David Marcoux.

Paterson already informed the New York State Association of Counties on May 6 that he would not support a delay, he said.

LEANDRA'S LAW

Counties believe in the concept, Hayle said, but Leandra's Law was not well thought out before it was adopted last year in honor of an 11-year-old girl killed while riding to a birthday party with a friend's drunken mother.

One of its provisions went into effect in January and elevates a DWI arrest to a felony for those driving drunk with a child under 15 in the vehicle.

The other requires an interlocking device installed on each vehicle a person owns or operates if that person has been sentenced to probation or a conditional discharge as a result of felony or misdemeanor DWI.

VERIFICATION

The person blows into the machine, and if the test finds no alcohol, the ignition can start.

Some wonder what is to stop someone else from submitting a breath sample instead of the probationer, but that can be averted by the type of machine purchased, said Essex County Probation Director Scott McDonald.

He said some come with a camera that takes three photographs of each test, while others have real-time reporting.

"Photos are essential, because you're really never quite sure who's blowing into the device," McDonald said.

Also, the machines are programmed for random tests to thwart those who try to skirt the test by leaving their vehicle running to avoid breathing into the tube.

DWI CASES

According to 2008 figures from the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Clinton County had 196 DWI convictions, with 69 sent to probation.

Essex County had 109 DWI convictions, with 46 sent to probation, and Franklin County recorded 95 DWI convictions, with 59 assigned to probation.

Not all DWI convictions end up as probation or conditional-discharge files, but the vendor winning the contract to supply free devices will be required to cover 10 percent of indigent cases per county and pass the costs on to the other probationers.

There is $3 million in grant money that counties can tap based on the percentage of DWI counts logged, but it is a one-time funding source.

BEING AGGRESSIVE

Hayle said District Attorney Derek Champagne offered to oversee conditional-discharge cases. The DA said he'd work to ensure all interlock costs are placed on defendants as a recommendation at sentencing.

And he said he can tighten the county's DWI stance all together.

"My office will not get bogged down with this whole discussion of ignition devices," Champagne said, adding that County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr. already revokes licenses in many DWI-related cases.

"But we will become more aggressive and say, 'If you are a DWI probationer or have a conditional discharge, you are not allowed to drive, period,'" Champagne said.

McDonald said it will cost an average of $3 a day for each DWI probationer in New York to pay for an ignition-interlock device.

"And that's about the cost of a beer."

E-mail Denise A. Raymo at: draymo@pressrepublican.com

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