You had been looking forward to your co-worker's wedding at the Glen Cove Mansion for weeks. As you expected, it was touching, romantic, and beautiful. You didn't end up bringing a date and that made you feel a little awkward at first, but the champagne was flowing and you soon relaxed. In fact, you even met a cute groomsman. When the reception was winding down, the two of you decided to get a nightcap. He didn't have his car, so you offered to drive. You had only gotten as far as Brewster Street when there was a patrol car behind you, signaling you to pull over. The next thing you knew you were being charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). What do you do? What happens now? Here is some basic information to help you navigate your DWI in Long Island.
The first folks you will likely encounter in your DWI case in Long Island are law enforcement officers who may hail from the Suffolk County Police Department, the Nassau County Police Department, or maybe the New York State Police. Your case may be prosecuted by the District Court Bureau of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office or the Nassau County District Attorney's Office and may be heard in the Suffolk County District Court or the Nassau County District Court.
The Law in New York
Under New York law, no person shall drive a motor vehicle while in an "intoxicated condition" or while his ability to drive a motor vehicle "is impaired by the consumption of alcohol." Typically, a blood alcohol level of between 0.05 to 0.07% will lead to a charge of DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired), while a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more will likely lead to a charge of Driving While Intoxicated per se (DWI), and a blood alcohol level of 0.18% of more will likely lead to a charge of Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated per se (AGG-DWI). The penalties for each of these charges vary, and are enhanced if the driver is under 21 or when there have been multiple offenses. This summary from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles provides a helpful overview with additional information.
The Traffic Stop and Arrest
If the officer has reasonable suspicion that you are driving while impaired, he will likely pull you over and start by asking you a few questions such as whether and how much you have been drinking. The officer will usually be observing you at this point for signs of intoxication (smell of alcohol, slurred speech, etc.). He will then typically ask you to step out of the car to participate in field sobriety tests to further evaluate your sobriety. You are not required to take these tests and politely declining to do so is an option. However, if the officer has probable cause, he still can and probably will arrest you. At this point you will typically be asked to take a chemical test. By driving in New York you are deemed to have consented to such testing. You may refuse, but there are consequences for doing so.
In order to be released home, you will have to go through the booking and bail process, in which information about you is officially entered into the system and you promise (either with money or your signature) that you will return to court.
Appearances and Hearings
Typically, your first court appearance will be the arraignment when the charges against you are read, you are advised of your right to an attorney, the issue of bail may be revisited and you are asked for your plea (guilty, not guilty). If you plead "guilty," you will proceed to sentencing or legal punishment. If you plead "not guilty," you will proceed toward trial. Prior to trial you will generally have pre-trial hearings where you attempt to establish what will be addressed at trial. This may include deciding which witnesses will testify, arguing to have certain evidence excluded, or requesting that the case be dismissed.
Separate from the criminal consequences of a DWI are the administrative ones. If you refuse the chemical test, your driver's license will be temporarily suspended pending a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The hearing will focus on the following issues only: 1) did the officer have reasonable grounds to believe that you were driving while intoxicated or under the influence? 2) did the officer lawfully arrest you? 3) were you given sufficient warning that refusal to submit would lead to license suspension/revocation regardless of whether you were found guilty of the charge for which the arrest was made? and 4) did you refuse the test? If the hearing officer determines that the answer to all inquiries is yes, your license will be revoked for at least 1 year and you will be subject to a $500 fine.
As noted above, the penalties vary according to a variety of factors, but even for a first time DWI offense, they can include a fine between $500 and $1,000, a jail sentence up to 1 year, a minimum 6 month license revocation, ignition interlock device, and more.
Facing a DWI charge can be an emotional experience and the consequences of a conviction can be long lasting. For answers to your particular concerns, you may wish to consult with a skilled attorney. Check out this FindLaw section on Using a DUI Lawyer for more information about how an attorney can help you.