Party-goers in Albany are usually pretty happy -- and responsible -- with the 4:00 AM "last call." You can arrive at Madison Avenue well after midnight and have plenty of time for drinking and dancing. But good times don't last forever, and they'll be severely curtailed if you're caught drinking and driving.
Driving while impaired or intoxicated can be a serious offense. Even if no one gets hurt, the charges can change your life. Do your best to prepare for the unexpected by reviewing this guide to DWI laws in the Capital Region. Take this article as a starting point and consider hiring an Albany-based attorney if you're in trouble.
New York makes it unlawful to have even 0.05 BAC while other states typically don't penalize drivers until they have a 0.08. If you're caught with this relatively low BAC, you can be found guilty of "Driving While Ability Impaired" or DWAI.
If you're from out of state, you may be aware that the common threshold for a Driving Under the Influence, Driving While Intoxicated, or Operating Under the Influence crime is a 0.08 BAC. If you have a 0.08 BAC in New York, you can be convicted of "Driving While Intoxicated" (DWI), a misdemeanor upon the first conviction, and usually a felony thereafter.
The state punishes for other alcohol related activities. You may be charged with additional misdemeanors or felonies for driving with an open container, reckless driving, child endangerment, and other risky behaviors. In addition, all charges and consequences may be enhanced when either (1) a driver's BAC goes above 0.18, (2) the driver is under age 21, or (3) the driver is using illegal drugs as well. For more information, see You and the Drinking Driving Laws (PDF).
If you're caught driving DWAI in Albany, you will be fined at least $300. If you're a repeat offender, you can be fined a maximum of $1,500. If you commit the more serious Driving While Intoxicated, the minimum fine is $500, and the maximum for repeat offenders is $10,000. Keep in mind that these are only the fines. Offenders must pay additional amounts in administrative fees and program costs.
Even the most minor of charges can result in jail time. Although DWAI comes with no minimum incarceration, the court may sentence drivers to up to 180 days behind bars. DWI offenders do not have a minimum jail time, but the maximum penalty may include seven years for repeat offenders.
License Suspension and Revocation
Our state has two different methods for taking away driving privileges. If your license is suspended, you will automatically be eligible to drive after you serve the suspension term and pay the suspension termination fee. If your license is revoked, your license is reinstated only with an actual review of your driving record. Also, the revocation period is just the minimum time that you will be without driving privileges; many people must wait even longer for reinstatement. New York suspends drivers' licenses for only the most minor alcohol offenses, and otherwise revokes a driver's license for driving under the influence. Suspension and Revocation terms can vary in length. See the DMV's guide to suspension and revocation.
The suspension or revocation term usually begins at the time of your sentencing. In some cases, the court may grant a "Continuation of Driving Privileges." In such a case, your term will begin 20 days later.
Drinking Driver Program (DDP) and Conditional License
If your license has been suspended, you may also receive a notice that you are eligible for the Drinking Driver Program and possibly a conditional license. DDP educates drivers on the risks of alcohol and drug use when driving and serves as a rehabilitation program. Participation can be a requirement for having your license reinstated. See The Drinking Driver Program (PDF) for more information on program fees, rules, and registration. Three programs operate in Albany County (PDF).
Some drivers will be sentenced to probation and may be required to install an ignition interlock device on any vehicle that the driver may own. The device prevents the car from operating unless the driver gives a clean breath sample. Drivers must pay the cost of installation and maintenance. See the state's list of ignition interlock installers for more information on venders in Albany.
The procedure following an alcohol-related traffic stop isn't always the same, but there are some key steps that are pretty common.
A person arrested for driving while intoxicated may be taken to the Albany County Correctional Facility, where he/she will remain until a court grants his/her release. For more information about arraignment, bail, and more, please visit FindLaw's section on Criminal Procedure.