Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Basics

Driving While Intoxicated In New York
Driving While Intoxicated In New York

According to calculateme.com, a Lithuanian man was pulled over with a blood alcohol level of .727%, over 9 times the legal limit in New York.  Remarkably, the driver explained that he had been drinking all night and was just trying to “freshen up” with a beer for breakfast.  This reading is the equivalent of drinking more than one bottle of vodka!

The New York legal limit is .08% which figure refers to the percentage of alcohol content in your blood.  This benchmark makes it easier for prosecutors to convict DWI defendants.  All they have to do is show that the person had such a reading and the defendant is considered per se drunk (even if they haven’t exhibited any effects of the alcohol and were otherwise driving fine).

Of course, with that said, there still must be probable cause to stop you while driving in the first place (i.e., some unsafe driving maneuver or other basis to believe you driving is impaired).  An officer cannot just randomly pull you off the road. The one exception to the probable cause requirement is if you are stopped at a sobriety check point.

Keep in mind, however, that police officers usually only test your breath (not your blood) and then extrapolate how much alcohol must be in your blood as a result of the breath test.  The use of a formula to “back end” your blood alcohol ratio often provides grounds for attacking the breathalyzer test results later on by a savvy DWI attorney.

Another misunderstood thing about DWIs is that a breathalyzer test is not the only way you can be convicted of driving while intoxicated.  Even if someone refuses to blow into a breathalyzer (or if the breathalyzer results can be thrown out as defective or unreliable), he or she can still be convicted of “common law” drinking and driving.  In such a scenario, you are charged based upon the personal observations of the officer (blood shot or glassy eyes, swaying, unsteady gait, smell of alcohol, unsafe driving, etc).  While it is harder to prove a common law DWI, the consequences of a conviction are as severe as on a per se DWI conviction.

A final point involves the consequences on your New York driver license.  If you are charged with driving while intoxicated, your licensed is almost always temporarily suspended until the case is resolved.  This can take months to resolve.  You can ask the court for a “hardship license” but you’ll need to prove that the temporary suspension severely impacts your ability to work, support your family, etc.  If you don’t get a hardship license, about 30 days after your arrest most people will be notified by DMV that they are eligible to apply for a restricted use license to drive for work or school.

If you are convicted of DWI (which is a misdemeanor under Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1191(2) and 1192(3)), your license is revoked for 6 months and will have a criminal record.  Many DWI cases are resolved by a plea bargain reduction to a lesser charge known as driving while impaired (which is only a violation under Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1192(1)).  Driving while impaired refers to driving while a blood alcohol ration of .05 to under .08 and carries only a 90-day suspension of driving privileges.

And, of course, no discussion of the consequences would be complete without mentioning the money.  There are all types of costs involved with such a case including a fine, surcharge, court costs, and driver assessment fee.

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