Reckless Driving (NY VTL 1212) & DWI (NY VTL 1192): Is Evidence of Intoxication Per Se Proof of Recklessnes in a New York DUI Arrest

New York State has very strict DWI and DUI laws. The crimes that constitute Driving While Intoxicated and Driving Under the Influence range from misdemeanor offenses to felonies. In many of these drunk driving arrests, the police or prosecutors seek to enhance charges based on a variety of circumstances. In fact, where a “normal” DWI for having a .08 or higher blood alcohol content is a violation of VTL 1192.2, there is an automatic enhancement to a felony if a child under the age of sixteen is in the vehicle. You and your New York DWI lawyer will obviously need to assess the landscape of your case and determine the best defense to prevent a lapse in judgement from becoming a crime that lands you in a New York State prison.

In addition to the using “Leandra’s Law” to increase potential charges in a New York DUI and DWI arrest, another crime that is often alleged in a drunk driving incident is the crime of Reckless Driving (VTL 1212). A question that inevitably comes up in these cases is whether or not the conduct of the accused was in fact reckless or whether the prosecution is hanging its proverbial hat on the fact that the true underlying allegation is a DWI. Depending on the factors, your New York DUI lawyer will likely argue that barring other reckless elements, the mere allegation that you were driving drunk does not satisfy the requirements of a Reckless Driving offense.

In the People v. Peter Goldblatt, 104039, NYLJ 1202572838371, at *1 (App. Div., 3rd, Decided August 30, 2012), which is right on point, the defendant was convicted of numerous crimes including Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, Driving While Intoxicated and Reckless Driving. There, the evidence at trial established that the defendant was driving 55 miles per hour in a 40 mile-per-hour zone. At some point, the defendant drove partially off the road and killed two pedestrians. Although the defendant initially refused to submit to a chemical test, he did so after two hours where his blood alcohol content extrapolated to the time of the incident would have been approximately.158 percent (remember,.08 is considered per se intoxication). Ultimately, a jury convicted the defendant of the crimes, and others, listed above.

The issue before the Appellate Court was whether the evidence established the defendant’s guilt of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide. Although this blog entry does not deal with this crime, the offense is still relevant to this discussion because Reckless Driving (NY PL1212) is an element of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide. If the evidence did not support a conviction for Reckless Driving, then the more serious felony could not stand.

Reckless driving consists of “driving or using any motor vehicle…in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public highway” (Vehicle and Traffic Law ยง1212). More than just bad or dangerous use of a vehicle, Reckless Driving “calls for evidence showing something more than mere negligence” People v. Grogan, 260 NY 138, 143 [1932]. Further, factors beyond one traffic violation is required. additional aggravating acts or circumstances beyond a single violation of a rule of the road. People v. Grogan, 260 NY at 143-144 (1932). Looking at these legal interpretations of the law, speeding or improperly changing lanes by themselves would not rise to the level of Reckless Driving, but these actions together may rise to the level of conduct needed to satisfy the elements of the law.

On point with the issue addressed in this blog entry, the Court recognized that “[o]ne can drive recklessly without being intoxicated and, [conversely], one can drive while intoxicated without being reckless” Citing People v. Starowicz, 207 AD2d 994, 994 [1994]. Applying the legal decisions as to whether or not the defendant had violated the Reckless Driving laws of New York, the Court found that by failing to reduce his speed, driving off the road, not observing the bright clothing of the victims, striking them multiple feet from the road, etc., when “[c]onsidered cumulatively…was ample proof of [R]eckless [D]riving.” Further, the Court recognized that “intoxication, absent more, does not establish [R]eckless [D]riving. However, it does not follow that evidence of an individual’s intoxication and how that condition may have affected his or her ability to perceive and react to risks commonly encountered while operating a motor vehicle on a public highway is not relevant or admissible to establish that the motor vehicle was being operated recklessly…”

To sum up, evidence of intoxication is certainly relevant in an arrest for Reckless Driving in New York, but intoxication without more is not enough for a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

To read more about New York DUI laws and crimes involving Reckless Driving and other traffic offenses, please review the DWI section of Crotty Saland PC’s New York criminal law website or other entries in the DWI and Traffic Offenses section of the NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan Assistant District Attorneys assigned to the DWI Unit. The New York DWI lawyers at Crotty Saland PC represent clients throughout the New York City region.

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