New York DWI and NYC DUI: Prosecutors do not Need a .08 BAC for a Viable Criminal Case

A conviction for driving while intoxicated, drunk driving, DWI, DUI, or any other name you want to call a New York VTL 1192 crime, can, and often does, has a host of damaging consequences. The foreseeable consequences range from fines to incarceration and suspension / revocation of licenses to an interlock being placed on your vehicle (where you, the defendant, must pay for the maintenance and installation). As bad as these punishments may be (along with a criminal record that does not get expunged), there are consequences that can be much worse terms. Forget the fact that local law enforcement such as the NYPD or Westchester County Police may seek the forfeiture of your vehicle, there are few employers who would look favorably on a conviction relating to DWI even if the conduct does not rise to the felony level. With this in mind, it is never too early to challenge a criminal complaint or information. While your strongest defense may be at trial, should there be any grounds to challenge the sufficiency of the DWI accusation at an earlier stage, both you and your criminal attorney or New York DWI lawyer should seize the opportunity and do so.

Although the following case did not result in the appellate decision the defendant was hoping for, the case and decision are worth noting in this blog as they further define and illustrate the elements of New York’s DWI and Reckless Driving crimes and the minimum standards that prosecutors are required to meet to sustain a conviction.

In the case of People v. Brown, 2009-849 K CR, NYLJ 1202663548244, The defendant was convicted, after a trial of Driving While Ability Impaired (New York VTL 1192 [1], a violation), Driving While Intoxicated (New York VTL 1192 [2], the “per se” DWI involving a .08 or greater BAC), Driving While Intoxicated (New York VTL 1192 [3]), the “common law” DWI that does not require a BAC reading), and Reckless Driving (New York VTL 1212). Police observed the defendant rear-end another vehicle which had been stopped at a traffic light. The defendant hit the other car “with sufficient force to cause damage to both vehicles.” Id. at 5. The arresting officer approached the defendant and noticed some potential indicators of intoxication (the “common law” factors). The defendant’s eyes were watery, there was the smell of alcohol on his breath, he wasn’t walking normally, and an open, nearly empty bottle of brandy was on the driver’s seat (for the record, that is never a good thing even if there is a reasonable explanation). After conducting some field sobriety tests the officers also noticed that the defendant’s motor skills were diminished. All of this evidence taken with the blood alcohol test results, and the opinion evidence of the defendant’s state of intoxication was legally sufficient to establish the offense of common law driving while intoxicated. The appellate court then turned its attention to the reckless driving charge.

First, the court restated the statutory definition of Reckless Driving as “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.” (NY VTL 1212). Next, the court, citing People v. Starowicz, and People v. Goldblatt, noted that while it may be possible that “one can drive while intoxicated without being reckless”(People v. Starowicz) ”the voluntary use of alcohol…before driving may be considered as a factor in the reckless driving analysis.”(People v. Goldblatt).

As noted above, Brown failed in his attempt to challenge his DWI and Reckless Driving arrest. However, the bigger message of this case is the standard by which courts review criminal cases in New York and necessary evidence needed by prosecutors in these cases. You need not be “fall down drunk” nor must you blow well north of .08 for a judge or jury to find you guilty of VTL 1192.

More information on New York DWI laws is available at through these links and this blog.

A New York criminal defense practice representing clients in DWI offenses in New York City and her suburban municipalities located in Westchester, Rockland and beyond, the criminal lawyers at Saland Law PC prosecuted DWI offenses in Manhattan before utilizing their training and experience representing the accused.

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