New York shares borders with Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. Because of its proximity to these states and the ease of travel on Interstates 84, 87 and 90, drivers from New York frequently cross its border into other states. Likewise, drivers from out of state often visit New York. So what happens to a New Yorker who holds a New York driver's license and is convicted of drunk driving in Massachusetts? Similarly, what if a Connecticut resident who holds a Connecticut driver’s license is arrested and convicted for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New York? The answers to these questions depend on notifications sent through the Interstate Driver License Compact ("Compact") and the application of the laws of the state of the licensed driver's residence.
Interstate Driver License Compact
The Compact is an agreement among a majority of states to share information related to drivers' license suspensions and convictions for traffic violations of out-of-state residents. Under the Compact, the state in which the drunk driving conviction occurred will notify the state in which the driver is licensed of the violation, and then the home state will apply its own laws to punish the resident as if the violation had occurred in the home state.
The Compact is set forth in New York Vehicle and Traffic Law section 516. Under Article III, the state must identify the person convicted; describe the violation (including the statute, code or ordinance violated); identify the court in which the driver was convicted; and state whether the person entered a plea of guilty or not guilty, or whether the conviction was due to the forfeiture of bail, bond or other security.
With respect to drunk driving violations such as DWI or driving under the influence (DUI), Article IV of the Compact specifically provides that the "licensing authority in the home state, for the purposes of suspension, revocation or limitation of the license to operate a motor vehicle, shall give the same effect to the conduct reported . . . as it would if such conduct had occurred in the home state, in the case of convictions for . . . [d]riving a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a narcotic drug, or under the influence of any other drug to a degree which renders the driver incapable of safely driving a motor vehicle."
The Compact in Practice
Suppose that a Pennsylvania resident who holds a Pennsylvania driver’s license spends a weekend in New York visiting a friend and is arrested for DWI after a night out at a bar. The Pennsylvania resident is subsequently convicted of DWI under NY Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192. Because New York courts do not have jurisdiction over out-of-state driver's licenses, New York can only revoke the Pennsylvania resident’s ability to drive in New York. It cannot do anything about her ability to drive in Pennsylvania. Thus, she will have her privilege to operate a motor vehicle in New York taken away for at least six months, after which she will have to apply to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles for reinstatement.
The Compact does not give the New York court power to revoke her Pennsylvania license. So, the Pennsylvania resident may think that she got off easily because she doesn’t really care about not being able to drive in New York — she just won’t go back to New York in the six months that her driving privileges are revoked. However, through the Compact, the appropriate authority in Pennsylvania will be notified of the conviction, and Pennsylvania will give her New York conviction the same effect as if the conviction had been in Pennsylvania.
The Compact also affects New York residents and license holders who are convicted of drunk driving offenses in other states. For example, suppose that a New York driver who takes a weekend trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey, is arrested and later convicted of DUI. For a first offense with a BAC of between .08 and .10%, the driver will be subject to a fine of between $250 to $400 and a loss of driving privileges for three months, among other things. Just as in the above example, New Jersey can only revoke the driver’s privilege to drive in New Jersey. However, he will also face penalties in his home state, New York, because of the Compact.
Different laws in different states can be used to a driver's advantage in considering an appropriate plea bargain. For instance, some states do not recognize a driving while ability impaired (NY Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192-1), as there is no equivalent statute in that state, so a plea to such will not result in any additional penalty in the home state. Likewise, while New York drivers can have their license suspended for refusing to take a chemical test, New Jersey does not recognize a refusal, as there is no equivalent statute in New Jersey. Knowing the nuances and interplay between the various state laws can make a big difference in deciding how to fight your case.
With the ease of interstate travel, it is common for individuals from one state to be arrested for traffic violations such as drunk driving in other states. Because of the Interstate Driver License Compact, drivers face penalties, suspensions and license revocations in the states of conviction and their home states. Hiring an attorney that is knowledgeable in this area can make a big difference in how your life is affected by an alcohol-related conviction.