People keep driving drunk.
Despite decades of efforts to discourage, deter and punish DWI offenders, there are still plenty of people who keep doing it.
In New York State, first-time DWI offenders face potential fines and surcharges that can exceed $3000, license suspension or revocation, and a variety of other consequences.
Jail time is rare on a first offense, but it can happen.
Until recently the maximum fine for a first-time DWI was $1000, but New York added an "Aggravated DWI" offense for when the blood-alcohol content (BAC) is over 0.
The Aggravated DWI charge also affects plea bargaining.
In many cases lawyers could negotiate simple DWI charges down to a reduced charge of DWAI.
This is still generally true for cases where the BAC is below 0.
But when the driver is charged with Aggravated DWI, it is now almost impossible to negotiate the charge down to anything less than DWI.
This is an important distinction, because DWI is a misdemeanor and therefore a crime, while DWAI is a violation and is not considered a crime.
There are three levels of DUI offense in New York State for first-time offenders.
DWAI is "driving while ability impaired," and is generally thought to be for a BAC of between 0.
05 and 0.
This is not completely accurate, as those BAC levels do not necessarily make a person guilty of DWAI.
It is accurate in the sense that a person who blows a 0.
05 to 0.
07 will usually be charged with a DWAI.
A good lawyer will almost always get a good deal or even a dismissal on a 0.
05, and often on a 0.
07 BAC is a tougher one but it is still winnable.
The fine range for DWAI is between $300 to $500, but surcharges and assessments push the total over $1000.
The driver is almost always suspended for 90 days, and usually takes the Drinking Driver Program (DDP) to get a conditional license.
After 90 days the driver pays a $25 fee to lift the suspension.
DWI, or "driving while intoxicated," now generally refers to a BAC of 0.
08 to 0.
New York also has a "common law" DWI offense which is not defined by the BAC.
This is mainly important in cases where the defendant refused to blow into the breathalyzer or where there was a problem with the machine.
The police would typically testify about the defendant's behavior (staggering, slurred speech, etc.
) and a jury would decide whether the defendant was intoxicated.
The fine range for DWI is $500 to $1000, with total costs potentially approaching $2000.
The driver's license is revoked for six months, but can take the DDP to get a conditional license.
After the revocation period, the driver has to reapply for a license.
The fine range for Aggravated DWI in New York is $1000 to $2500.
With assessments and other charges it can go over $3000.
The revocation lasts for a year.
As a DWI lawyer in New York, I generally advise first-time offenders to fight any DUI charge where the BAC is 0.
09 or below, where they are charged with Aggravated DWI, and when there are certain apparent problems in the paperwork.
By fight, I mean at the least going through the initial stages of fighting the case including a motion and a suppression hearing.
Once that stage is over, we will have a much better idea of our chances at trial, and can almost always negotiate a good deal at that stage anyway if that's what the client wants to do.
There are certain consequences to fighting a DWI.
First, the driver is usually suspended while the case is pending (if the BAC is 0.
08 or above) and many drivers can't drive until they get a conditional license until 30 days after that suspension starts - and the 30 days don't count against any later suspension.
Second, the attorney fee for that process is significantly higher than for making a deal.
Finally, many defendants feel guilty about their conduct (even when they're actually innocent) and the fight can be traumatic.
However, the long-term consequences of having a DUI offense on your record is substantial.
In some sense it never really goes away.
It can affect your career, status in the military, and is particularly significant if you get charged with another DUI offense in the future.