Motorists in New York who are convicted of driving while intoxicated face severe penalties, and even first-time offenders who do not cause accidents or injuries can be sent to jail for up to a year. The penalties are even more severe for drivers who get behind the wheel with passengers under the age of 16 after drinking or taking drugs. That is because lawmakers in the Empire State introduced harsh penalties for this kind of behavior when they passed the Child Passenger Protection Act in 2009. The bill was supported unanimously in both the New York State Assembly and New York Senate.
The act, which is usually called Leandra’s law, makes driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs with a minor under the age of 16 a Class E felony that carries a custodial sentence of up to four years in a state prison. Impaired motorists who are involved in an accident that causes the death of a minor passenger under the age of 16 can face Class B felony charges and up to 25 years in a state prison.
Leandra’s law is named after an 11-year-old girl who lost her life in a drunk driving accident in October 2009. According to court records, the woman responsible consumed several glasses of cognac at a party before leaving with six young children in her car. A breath test administered at the accident scene revealed that she had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.12. That figure is one and a half times the legal limit in New York. The woman pleaded guilty to DWI and manslaughter and was sentenced to a prison term of between four and 12 years.
Drunk driving defenses
Harsh penalties are only handed down in DWI cases when prosecutors can prove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt. They usually rely on the results of toxicology reports to meet this burden, but this type of evidence is not infallible. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may challenge breath test results when police officers used equipment that was poorly maintained or miscalibrated, and even blood test evidence could be questioned if the chain of custody is unclear and the sample used may have been mishandled.