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Your Rochester DWI Case: The Basics

You've just had an amazing dinner at Pane Vino. It's something that many of us would love to do more often, so we savor it when we have the opportunity. In that spirit, you splurge a little on the wine. After several courses of food, refills in your glass, and live music, you're ready to go home with your date. But before you can get on to the Inner Loop, a police officer pulls you over. Uh-oh!

More people than you'd expect face DWI charges in Rochester and Monroe County. It can be a difficult ordeal for drivers and their loved ones who have to endure the consequences. FindLaw offers this guide to the basics of a DWI case.

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The first thing to know is that if you or a loved one is caught driving under the influence, you or that person can face criminal charges, punishable with incarceration and hefty fines. For this reason, it is sometimes advised that you proceed with the help of an attorney. If money is an issue, you can go to the Public Defender Office at 10 N. Fitzhugh Street in Rochester for an eligibility interview with a staff paralegal. See the Monroe County Public Defender's website for information on "Eligibility for Public Defense Services." The site also features answers to frequently asked questions.

Prohibited Conduct

Each state prohibits driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and one way of proving impairment is by measuring a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC). New York differs from most other states in that the state prohibits driving with a BAC of 0.05. Other states often begin punishing drivers who have a BAC of 0.08. This means that New Yorkers are allowed less alcohol consumption before the law gets involved when driving.

But do not be mistaken: police do not need to administer a chemical test in order for the state to charge and convict you of a driving under the influence crime. A police officer's testimony about your driving, appearance, and behavior can provide enough evidence to land you in serious trouble.

Immediate Aftermath of an Arrest

When police suspect a driver in Rochester of driving under the influence, they take the driver to the Monroe County Jail in downtown Rochester for processing. From there, the driver will possibly undergo a series of steps within the criminal justice system.

A Range of Charges

New York has several statutes that all prohibit impaired driving. The charges range in severity from Driving While Ability Impaired, often a mere traffic infraction, to Driving While Intoxicated and Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated, which are often felonies. There is, however, good news for first time offenders. As long as you don't harm someone or endanger a child, the most serious offense you'd likely be charged with is a misdemeanor. Under New York law, you can be jailed for no more than a year. For a brief overview of the possible charges and punishments, see page 3 of the DMV's You and the Drinking Driving Laws.

Testing and Test Refusal

A police officer will normally administer a preliminary breath test. If the results indicate that a driver has been drinking, the officer will follow up with a more precise chemical test. Each driver in New York -- even those who are not residents of the Empire State -- gives his/her implied consent to alcohol and drug tests of his/her blood, breath, urine, or saliva. If a driver refuses the test, his/her license will be suspended. If your license has been suspended after a test or test refusal, you can challenge the suspension with a Traffic Violations Bureau hearing. See the Bureau's webpage for more information. For more on suspensions, see A Guide to Suspension & Revocation of Driving Privileges in New York State (PDF).

Drinking Driving Program (DDP)

Some offenders will be eligible for the State's Drinking Driver Program. If you are eligible, you'll receive an education on the risks associated with drinking and driving. In most cases, a driver should participate if eligible because it is often a requirement for regaining your driving privileges either via reinstatement or a conditional license. For more information, see The Drinking Driver Program (PDF). Two programs are offered in Monroe County: one in Rochester, and another in Fairport.

Ignition Interlock Devices

If you're caught drinking and driving, the court may require you to install an ignition interlock device on all cars that you own. The device will keep the car from starting unless you (and only you) give a breath sample free of alcohol. You will be responsible for all installation and maintenance costs. Several companies offer ignition interlock services in Monroe County. See the DMV's list of installers and servicers for more information.


The courts in Rochester have a lot of power to enforce New York's laws related to driving under the influence. This article is simply a summary of what you may face. Every case is potentially different, so you may want to consult with an attorney about specific questions.

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