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Articles Posted in DWI/DWAI

In most cases, driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges come after police notice a motorist driving erratically or otherwise violating a New York traffic law.  In other cases a person may be stopped at a DWI checkpoint.  After law enforcement pulls over a driver, they may notice signs of intoxication, such as the smell of an alcoholic beverage, flushed face, or impaired coordination or speech. After an arrest for a New York DWI, the defendant may argue a motion to suppress evidence of their intoxication based on an illegal stop. This often occurs in situations when a police officer approaches a stopped vehicle.

Under New York law, police officers have a broad authority to approach individuals and make inquiries about their identity or destination. However, when an officer’s inquiry becomes accusatory, extended, or focuses on a person’s potential criminality, the officer is no longer asking for information. Once an officer asks more directed questions, in a way that would lead the person to believe that they are under suspicion of wrongdoing, the officer’s inquiry must be supported by a founded suspicion that criminality is afoot.

In some cases, an arrest for DWI precipitates a stop for an unrelated traffic violation. For instance, an appeals court recently issued an opinion stemming from a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop. In that case, the officer approached the defendant’s vehicle after noticing that the vehicle was illegally parked at a bus stop. The defendant stated that he was waiting for someone and moved his vehicle. The officer then noticed that the defendant’s rear brake light was out. He stopped the vehicle and arrested the defendant for DWI.

As New York DWI lawyers, we are following a recent state appellate court  opinion on a New York DWI case discussing the procedures law enforcement must use to legally conduct a DWI checkpoint. Ultimately, the court concluded that the checkpoint used by law enforcement leading to the defendant’s arrest was legal, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Drunk driving checkpoints are used throughout New York to catch intoxicated drivers. However, historically, these checkpoints have been used to target specific groups of motorists. Thus, courts have held that all DWI checkpoints must comply with certain guidelines; otherwise, they are unconstitutional.  It is important for attorneys that handle New York DWI’s to know the specific requirements for operating a constitutional checkpoint when conducting suppression hearings.

The Facts of the Case

The relevant facts in the case are straightforward: the defendant was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint and eventually arrested for driving while intoxicated. Evidently, there were signs immediately before the checkpoint entrance, indicating the presence of law enforcement. All law enforcement were in marked cars with the vehicle’s emergency lights on, and all officers were wearing their uniforms. Additionally, the officers operating the checkpoint would stop every car that passed by. However, officers would not ask motorists for their license and proof of insurance, as not to impede the flow of traffic any more than necessary.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York DWI case discussing the denial of the defendant’s pretrial motion to suppress. The case required the court to determine if the lower court properly denied the defendant’s motion based on the arresting officers’ credibility. Finding that there was no reason to conclude the officer’s testimony at trial was not credible, the court upheld the denial of the defendant’s motion.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s brief opinion, a police officer pulled the defendant over based on his observations that she had her high-beams on and failed to use her turn signal. During the traffic stop, the officer thought the defendant was intoxicated. Ultimately, he arrested the defendant for Driving While Intoxicated.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that any evidence of her intoxication should be suppressed based on the fact that the officer’s decision to stop her was unsupported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause. At the motion, the police officer cited two reasons for stopping the defendant’s car. First, she improperly used her high-beams, and second, she failed to use her turn signal.

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If you haven’t been arrested for DWI (driving while intoxicated) or are not familiar with DUI laws, you probably have no idea what an ignition interlock device is. This small tool is a requirement for drivers who violated drunk driving laws throughout the United States. In fact, each state has an interlock installation program.

Ignition interlock devices (IID) have been around for years. California was the first to use the device when it established a pilot program following the Farr-Davis Safety Act of 1986. Today, the IID is an essential tool for discouraging recidivism and minimizing the number of repeat offenders.

If you or someone you know has recently been convicted of drunk driving, here are some vital facts about ignition interlock devices.

Those on probation in New York must watch their conduct carefully. In a recent case, the New York Supreme Court upheld a decision to re-sentence a man who was convicted of DWI while on probation for a previous conviction. This case serves as a cautionary tale to those on probation. If you are convicted of another crime, courts may re-sentence to a much harsher penalty.

The case involved a man who was convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the first degree. His conviction resulted in a sentence of 28-84 months of imprisonment. At the time of his conviction, the defendant was on probation for a prior conviction. As a result, a judge revoked his probation and sentenced the defendant to an additional 16-60 months of confinement. The defendant appealed the sufficiency of the evidence in his DUI conviction and the decision to revoke and modify his probationary sentence.

With regard to both of the defendant’s claims, the court refused to review the defendant’s arguments because the defendant had not properly preserved them at trial. In a criminal case, arguments raised on appeal must be properly preserved at trial and through the post-trial process. If issues are not raised, they are waived and cannot be raised for the first time on appeal.

Several years ago, I won a suppression hearing in a New York DWI where the police were called to the scene by a restaurant worker who saw the defendant stumble out of the restaurant into a nearby parked van and fall asleep.  Arriving police woke up the driver and pulled him out of the car where he was questioned and made to do field sobriety tests.   The case was ultimately dismissed when the Court suppressed the evidence.  Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York drunk driving case discussing an officer’s ability to ask a driver out of the car. Ultimately, the court concluded that, although the defendant was asleep behind the wheel, the officer lacked the probable cause necessary to legally remove the defendant from the vehicle.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer was on routine patrol when he noticed the defendant behind the wheel of the car of a legally parked car, hunched over the steering wheel. The officer approached and knocked on the window for less than a minute before the defendant woke up. Once the defendant awoke, the officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle. After the defendant exited the vehicle, the officer noticed a cup full of an unknown liquid and a bottle of scotch in the back seat. The officer also noticed that the defendant seemed to be intoxicated.

The officer arrested the defendant for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and several related offenses. The defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to ask him out of the vehicle. The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion, and the prosecution appealed.

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There is no doubt that the Corona Virus Pandemic has disrupted every aspect of New York life.  This is especially true for New York lawyers practicing in New York Criminal Courts.  With New York Courts closed except for essential matters, New York criminal lawyers and their clients find themselves having to navigate a whole new landscape that is having a major impact on criminal clients.

Consider just a few facts:  New York Criminal Cases are often being adjourned into June or even July from March or April.  What about the constitutional and statutory rights to a speedy trial?  Under New York CPL 30.30 (1)(b), A prosecutor must be ready for trial within 90 days of the commencement of a criminal case where a client is charged with an “A” misdemeanor.  Which means that many clients should be getting their cases dismissed when the Courts reopen.  However, CPL 30.30 (4)(g), excludes from the 90 calculation periods of delay caused by “exceptional circumstances”.  While I know of no Court that has ruled on this issue yet, I do not think it will be too long before Courts rule that all of the time occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic will be excluded under that section.  This may raise many issues for clients.

What about the DWI client that was arraigned on a DWI in February and had their license suspended pending prosecution under New York law.  We got her a hardship license so that she could drive to and from work but the client lost her job and so is not permitted to drive and her case has already been adjourned until June at the earliest.  Four months after the arraignment.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York DWI case involving the question of whether the arresting officer had the legal authority to approach the defendant’s parked car and knock on the window. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer possessed the authority to do so. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress and affirmed his convictions.

According to the court’s written opinion, a police officer was on routine patrol when he saw the defendant pull into an empty parking lot shortly after midnight. At the time, no businesses nearby were open. About 20 minutes later, the officer drove by the parking lot again, and he noticed that the defendant’s car was still parked in the lot, running with its lights on. The officer approached the defendant’s vehicle to see the defendant slumped over the steering wheel. Ultimately, the defendant was arrested for DUI and related offenses.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to approach his vehicle, as there was no indication that he was involved in any criminal activity. Indeed, the police officer testified at the motion that he was “unsure” what he would find when he approached the vehicle, and did not think that “criminal activity was afoot.”

New York DWI Attorneys know that it is one of the worst nightmares for many motorists; the image of those red and blue lights approaching from behind as you are on your way home from dinner or a party. It doesn’t matter if you have had only one drink, or if it has been hours since your last; being pulled over for a New York DWI while having even the slightest bit of alcohol in your system is a terrifying experience.

Part of the reason why drivers fear being pulled over is the uncertainty. Most people do not get behind the wheel when they know they have had too much to drink. Indeed, the majority of DWI arrests are for drivers who thought they were below the legal limit, but that ended up not to be the case. However, what many people do not realize is that there is a lot of subjectivity that goes into a New York DWI arrest.

First is the issue of whether a police officer has the legal ability to stop a car and administer a breath test. Police officers need to have a justifiable reason to pull a vehicle over. Once a car pulls over, a motorist can only be asked to take a breath test if police have reasonable suspicion to believe that they were driving under the influence. If the police ask for a breath test and a driver refuses, then they are subject to administrative penalties, including a minimum one-year license revocation for the first time and a minimum eighteen-month revocation for subsequent refusals.  In addition, a police officer may ask a motorist to take a portable breath test on the side of the road.  While the results of such a test would not be admissible at a DWI trial, the results may lead a police officer to request a chemical test at the station and refusal to take the portable test is a traffic infraction punishable by 2 points on your license.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens have a right to be free from self-incrimination. The extent of this right, including in what situations it applies, has long been disputed. Currently, courts consider the Fifth Amendment to attach when police engage in the custodial interrogation of a suspect.

Determining when police conduct amounts to custodial interrogation involves a two-prong inquiry. First, courts consider whether the suspect is in custody, or its functional equivalent. Proving a suspect is in custody requires courts use an objective approach, asking whether a suspect reasonably believed they were free to leave. If so, the suspect was not in custody.

A suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights will not attach merely because they are in custody; police must also question or interrogate the suspect. For example, the police may question a suspect about their involvement in a crime. Courts have held that an officer’s conduct that falls short of direct questioning may still trigger interrogation. Thus, any actions taken by an officer reasonably expected to elicit a response from the suspect may count as an interrogation. However, when a statement is spontaneously made, it will not likely be suppressed. A recent case illustrates this concept as it pertained to a “blurted out” confession after a traffic stop. While the suspect was unquestionably in custody at the time she made her statement, it was made with no prodding, encouragement, or questioning from the police.

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