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Articles Posted in DWI/DWAI

New York DWI lawyers must understand the science as well as the law.  Under long-standing U.S. Supreme Court case law, the prosecution must disclose all evidence that is material to guilt or innocence to the defense. This means that in a New York DWI/DUI case, the prosecution has an obligation to hand over not just the evidence that it plans to use to establish that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but also evidence that would tend to show that the defendant did not commit the crimes charged.

In a recent New York DUI case, the court considered the extent of the discovery that must be provided to a defendant facing charges of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over while traveling 81 miles per hour in a 50-mile-per-hour zone. Upon pulling the defendant over, the officer claimed the defendant had glassy eyes, slurred speech, and an odor of alcohol on his breath. When asked, the defendant told the officer that he had consumed a single drink.

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In the past, we have written several blogs about the importance of suppression in criminal cases in general and specifically with DWI cases.  Recently, a court granted a defendant’s motion to suppress in a New York DUI case that was initiated by police officers pulling the defendant over for having tinted windows. The court granted the motion based on a total lack of testimony regarding the officers’ observations of the degree of tint on the defendant’s windows. The court noted that excessive tint is a valid basis for a New York traffic stop. However, here the prosecution failed to elicit evidence that the tint on the defendant’s windows was greater than that which was legally permissible.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over by an off-duty police officer based on the vehicle’s tinted windows. The off-duty officer testified that he instructed the defendant to pull over and, through his open window, could smell the odor of alcohol and could see that the defendant’s eyes were watery and bloodshot. The officer also testified that he based these conclusions on his twelve years as a New York City police officer. The officer explained that the only reason he pulled the defendant over was that he noticed “tinted windows.”

The off-duty officer called in back-up, who arrived a short time later. The back-up officer was less experienced than the off-duty officer, but testified to having made between 12-15 DUI arrests in his 15 months as a New York City police officer. The officer also noted that the defendant smelled of alcohol.

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Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York DUI case requiring the court to determine if the police officer that stopped the defendant possessed probable cause to do so. Ultimately, the court concluded that the police officer did not have probable cause to stop the defendant’s vehicle for a traffic stop after hearing his tires squeal as he pulled away from an intersection. Thus, the court held that the defendant’s motion to suppress should be granted.

The Facts of the Case

A police officer was on patrol around 2:30 in the morning. The area bars had just closed, and there were a number of pedestrians in the area. While waiting at an intersection, the police officer noticed that as the light turned green, the tires on the defendant’s vehicle squealed as he pulled away from an intersection at a quick pace.

The police officer decided to pull over the defendant based on his screeching tires and rate of acceleration. At the officer’s request, the defendant provided his driver’s license and explained that he was on his way home from work. He told the officer that he did not know why he was pulled over, and the officer informed him of the basis for the traffic stop.

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New York DWI lawyers have been following a landmark ruling issued earlier this month, when a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York DUI case which determined whether the lower courts properly excluded the results of a breath test indicating that the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit. The court ultimately determined that the warnings provided to the defendant were not correct, and thus the court could not say that he voluntarily consented to the test.  This was a critical decision from New York’s highest Court, the Court  of Appeals, which interpreted the extent of New York’s “two hour rule” for chemical tests in DWI cases.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over and arrested on various charges, including driving under the influence of alcohol. About two hours after his arrest, a police officer asked the defendant if he would consent to a breath test. The defendant refused the test, and the officer read the defendant refusal warnings.

The refusal warnings provided by the officer stated that the defendant’s license would be suspended or revoked, regardless of whether he was ultimately convicted of driving under the influence. The police officer also explained to the defendant that the fact that he refused the breath test could be used against him at trial. The defendant then agreed to take the test, which indicated that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit.

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Being arrested, charged, and convicted of a New York DWI offense can carry significant consequences for motorists. Indeed, as discussed below, even being charged with DWI can result in the immediate suspension of your license.  These consequences can include fines, mandatory participation in the New York Drunk Driver Program, probation, and even jail time. In addition, a DWI conviction can also result in a license suspension or revocation.

Under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1193(2)(e)(7), under certain circumstances, a court can suspend the license of a person charged with DUI while the case is still pending. However, to comply with constitutional requirements, the statute allows for judges to make hardship exceptions. A recent case discusses how courts determine if someone charged with a New York DWI offense meets the requirements of a hardship exception.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over after making an illegal left turn. When the officer approached the defendant’s car, he claimed to have noticed signs of intoxication. The officer administered a breath test, which indicated that the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was .087. The legal limit in New York is .08.

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A client facing 7 charges including two counts of DWI, two counts of driving without a license and several traffic infractions had all of those charges dismissed and instead plead to one count of disorderly conduct a no point violation in Rockland County last week.  The client who was charged in the Village of Sloatsburg was charged with two counts of Driving While Intoxicated under Vehicle and Traffic Law 1192 (3), two counts of Driving without a License under VTL 509, one count of failure to keep right in violation of VTL 1120 (a) and one count of failing to use designated lane in violation of 1128 (c) as well as improper plates under VTL 402(2).  In addition the client was charged separately in the Department of Motor Vehicles with Refusing to take a Chemical Test which in this case was a breathalyzer test.  The Refusal in the DMV was dismissed after a contentious hearing, as we have already reported.  Now we are please to report that all of the DWI and VTL charges have been dismissed as well.

The client, who had two prior convictions for DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol) from 2007 and 2012 was facing a lifetime revocation of his driving privileges as a result of his prior record if he had either been convicted of any alcohol related driving offense such as DWI or DWAI or if he had been found to have refused a validly requested chemical test.

The victory came after we made an application  to the Court seeking suppression of inculpatory statements or in the alternative asking the Court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the issues.  During the hearing during my cross-examination of the arresting officer it seemed unlikely that the officer was telling the truth.  Some of the arresting officer’s answers seemed improbable and in some cases inconsistent with sworn statements made in his paperwork.  In an attempt to verify the arresting officer’s story I asked the officer about any electronic recordings of the incident.  The following colloquy occurred:

Refusing to take a chemical test in New York can come with very serious consequences.  For example, a motorist who refuses a properly requested breath test can have his or her license revoked for a minimum period of one year even if they beat the DWI case.  If a person has prior alcohol related incidents, the period of revocation can be much longer, even life.  Fortunately, before revoking a license because of an alleged refusal, the motorist is entitled to some level of due process.  In New York this requires that the Department of Motor Vehicles hold a hearing to determine whether the motorists’ license will be revoked.  In New York the criminal case, the DWI, and the refusal follow two different tracks.  The DWI is handled in Court while the refusal goes to a hearing before an administrative law judge that works for DMV.  In addition, the burden of proof is lower in refusal hearings.

Last week, Tilem & Associates Partner Peter Tilem conducted  a “refusal hearing” in the New York and beat the refusal. That means that the police did not sustain their burden of proving the elements necessary to revoke the license and the matter was dismissed by the DMV administrative law judge. This particular motorist was charged with both DWI and had the refusal.  He had two prior convictions for Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (DWAI) and either a conviction in the DWI case (including a conviction for a reduced DWAI) or a finding that he refused could have resulted in a lifetime revocation of his New York driving privileges. Thankfully, after an almost one hour cross-examination of the police officer the DMV judge dismissed the refusal.

At a New York DWI Refusal hearing the police must establish 4 separate elements in order to win the refusal hearing.

Experienced DWI attorneys understand the potential errors associated with breath test machines even when calibrated and functioning properly.  However, recently a New Jersey State Police Sergeant assigned as a coordinator in the Alcohol Drug Testing unit has been arrested for skipping a step in the recalibration of breath test machines and falsifying records to certify that he performed the required check.  Specifically, the Sergeant is alleged to have skipped the temperature check while re-calibrating the machines and then falsely certifying that he performed the check.  The Sergeant was responsible for calibrating breathalyzers in Middlesex, Ocean, Monmouth, Union and  Somerset counties over a period of seven years and State officials have identified well over 20,000 DWI cases that could be affected by this arrest.  This arrest comes on the heels of a Police lab technician having been accused of faking a test in a Marijuana case last December.  That disclosure put into question almost 15,ooo cases.

The issue with breath tests is even more acute than drug cases because generally the police do keep the drugs that were tested for a period of time even after a conviction and so those drugs are available to be retested.  However, when you give a breath sample, no part of the sample is maintained for retesting and therefore the momentary reading from the breath machine plays a crucial part in the case.  In addition, in most drug cases the issue is the presence or absence of a controlled substance and the total weight of the substance.  The concentration of the controlled substance in the sample does not matter.  In DWI cases, however, small differences in the percentage of alcohol detected in a breath sample can have a huge impact on the outcome of a case and can in fact impact whether charges are brought or not.

The issue of calibration goes to the heart of the accuracy of these devices and goes to the heart of the accuracy of what is often the key evidence in DWI cases.  For example, body temperature can affect the breath reading and as experienced DWI lawyers understand a person with a fever can have an artificially high read on a breath test.  Therefore, of course, the temperature of the simulation solution during a re-calibration can be critical. The problem is compounded by the substantial weight given to the results of these machines by prosecutors, courts and even jurors and at the same time manufacturers of breath machines attempt to keep the inner workings of these machines a secret, treating the inner workings of the machine as a trade secret.

New York’s new sealing law which authorizes the sealing of up to one felony conviction and two total convictions went into effect in New York last week and is already creating new possibilities for those with old criminal convictions.  Up until recently a New York expungement law would be considered to be almost impossible.  After all as experienced criminal defense lawyers there is rarely a week that goes by without a call from someone asking about “expunging” criminal convictions and we as attorneys were frustrated with what used to be the answer; that there was no way of sealing old criminal convictions in New York.

Like all the uncertainty surrounding all new laws no one really knows how impactful CPL 160.59  will be.  One factor will be whether prosecutors routinely oppose applications to seal under CPL 160.59 or not.  The other will be what types of hearings are used by the Court and lastly how generous will the Courts be in sealing old convictions.

Another question pertains to the use of prior alcohol related driving convictions to deny people driver’s licenses.  The New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is currently applying a twenty-five year look back and denying those with three or more alcohol related driving convictions reinstatement of their driver’s licenses.  These revocations are essentially turning into lifetime revocations.  As we reported last month, our firm has already filed a lawsuit against DMV because we believe that prior DWI convictions cannot be used to deny people licenses if the Court (or the Department of Corrections)  has issued a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.

DUIs can have a serious impact on recipients, causing financial distress and jeopardizing their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Even if you have been charged with a DUI, there may be a number of defenses available to you to alleviate the charge and to ensure that you are not punished unfairly. At Tilem & Associates, our seasoned New York City DUI attorneys have substantial experience analyzing DUI claims and helping individuals fight an unfair charge.

The following recent appellate opinion illustrates why consulting with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible can make a huge difference in protecting your rights. The defendant was arrested for driving while under the influence in addition to a number of other traffic-related violations. The arresting officer transported him to the nearby station at which point two other officers observed the breath-testing procedure. Both officers were experienced administrators of the test and familiar with using the device. One of the observing officers administered the test, which involves a 13-step procedure, and the other officer took a video recording of the test.

The defendant was unable to perform a proper breath sample on his first two tries, resulting in two errors. The machine had to be reset each time. On the third attempt, the machine printed out a test result showing that the defendant’s BAC was 0.25.

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