FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2010-02-16
It took only two months for the New York legislature to pass a strict driving while intoxicated (DWI) law in response to the death of 11-year-old Leandra Rosado. Last October, Rosado died in a roll-over crash on her way to a sleep-over. Her friend’s mother, Carmen Huertas, had been intoxicated while behind the wheel.
Rosado’s father Lenny lobbied the New York legislature for tougher laws so that no other child would die or be injured in vain. According to State Senator Martin Dilan, who cosponsored the bill, 59 children were killed or injured in 2008 while passengers in the car of an intoxicated driver in New York. Lawmakers hope that the new law will deter these occurrences in the future.
“Leandra’s Law” makes driving while intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of at least .08 with a minor aged 15 or under in the car a felony punishable by up to four years in prison. If an intoxicated driver seriously injures a minor passenger in a crash, the penalty increases up to 15 years in prison. Causing the death of a minor in this situation results in up to 25 years in prison.
Mandatory Interlock Devices
In addition to jail or prison time, a person convicted of driving while intoxicated will be required to install a mandatory ignition interlock device in their car, regardless of whether a child is in the car. An ignition interlock device connects the ignition of a car to a breath alcohol analyzer. In a car with such a device the car will not start unless the driver can pass a breath alcohol test.
Different models of ignition interlock systems provide various safety barriers to thwart attempts by an intoxicated driver to bypass the system. For example, mandatory units provide reports to authorities over a period of time. Many systems will report any tampering in the log provided to authorities.
The Recent Evolution of DWI Laws
The rapid passage of Leandra’s Law demonstrates that state legislators are willing to take decisive action in the name of public safety, particularly when a compelling case indicates an existing oversight. New York is now home to some of the most stringent DWI laws in the nation, in a nation where the laws against drunk driving seem to be growing ever harsher.
Traditionally state laws prohibited people from operating vehicles with a blood alcohol content level above .10 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Over the past 20 years, the legal limit has been reduced to .08 across the country, and more than half of the states have added enhanced penalties for drivers with higher BAC levels. Eleven states require all drivers convicted of DUI or DWI to use ignition-interlock devices; most of these state laws were enacted within the past two years.
New York is currently one of the few states where driving while intoxicated with a child in the car is a felony, but this may be the next frontier in drunk driving laws, Only days after Leandra’s Law was passed, Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle signed a more lenient version of the New York law. As of July 1, 2010, Wisconsin drivers will face criminal charges and mandatory ignition-interlock installation if convicted of a single DWI offense while operating a vehicle with a minor under the age of 16 in the car. If New York and Wisconsin are any indication, a national trend may be fast approaching.
DWI laws are constantly evolving and often quite complex. The potential consequences of drunk driving allegations depend largely on the circumstances surrounding the arrest. Repeat offenders generally face harsher penalties than first-time offenders, and drivers with higher BAC levels may face more serious punishments than those just over .08 percent. If you have been arrested for drunk driving, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights and options.