This article was adapted from partner David C. Bruffett's chapter in "Inside the Minds: Strategies for Defending DWI Cases in New York, 2015 ed. published by Aspatore Books.
The negotiation process in a DWI case generally includes an effort to reduce the charges to something less serious. For instance, if my client is a first time offender with a BAC under .13, a common result is getting the charges reduced to Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) with a fine of $500 and a surcharge of $260. The sentence is generally a conditional discharge with an instruction to have no new arrests during the pendency of the discharge. As a judge, I keep track of the DWI cases that are heard in my court; we have at least twenty new DWI cases every month, over 400 per year. The information we compile with regard to these cases ranges from the types of DWI stops that are being made to the officers who are making the stops. A DWI case with a misdemeanor charge generally involves a fine of $1,000 plus a $400 surcharge and a license suspension.
Ignition Interlock Devices as Condition of Reduction to DWAI
However, the newest sentencing option for people who are facing trial for a DWI misdemeanor offense or who are attempting to plea bargain their case is the installation of an ignition interlock device, or IID. Essentially, the IID option has enhanced the DA’s ability to offer a broader spectrum of settlement options in these cases. Previously, if a driver was found to have a high BAC level after getting involved in a accident or if the driver was uncooperative when dealing with the police, or perhaps there was some other negative aspect about the case, a driver would have to plead to a misdemeanor—which, of course, would put you at risk of facing a lengthier license suspension period, greater exposure to a lengthy jail sentence, and a increased fine. Now, however, many DA’s offices are willing to reduce the misdemeanor charges in a DWI case down to a DWAI charge, even if they believe that they have a strong case, if the driver agrees to the installation of an interlock device for six months. The IID is being effectively used as a bargaining tool by many DA’s offices.
Under New York State law, an individual who is convicted of an alcohol-related offense must wait five years before they are once again eligible to take participate in the state’s 16 hour Drinking and Driving Program (DDP). The DDP educates drivers about the dangers of drinking and driving and is designed to reduce recidivism via counseling and awareness. If someone was rearrested for drinking and driving within the 5-year period, not only would they face an enhanced charge but once that charge is resolved they would not be able to do the one thing that would allow them to have a conditional license—i.e., participate in the New York State Drinking and Driving Program. On occasion, agreeing to the installation of an IID in situations where it is not being mandated by law, ie when pleading to a DWAI, will allow a driver who is charged with DWI to plead to the lower level DWAI in situations where the DA is otherwise reluctant to reduce the matter.
There are several conditions that DA’s offices will often insist upon if you are seeking reduced charges in a DWI case, including counseling and alcohol treatment, education classes, and the installation of an IID. The installation process generally costs $150 to $250, and there is also a monthly rental fee for the device of $50 to $100. The driver is also responsible for any maintenance expenses and fees for downloading information from the device. In addition, the driver must arrange to have the device calibrated on a periodic basis, to have the records downloaded, and to have the device reset. After a certain time period is up—whether it is a year or six months—the driver must then pay to have the device taken out of their car; that process generally costs about $75-100. In some cases, the IID costs may be reduced based on financial need; the defendant can apply to the court for a reduction of fees based upon the defendant’s monthly income, personal property, and monthly expenses. Ultimately, a judge will decide if a defendant is eligible to receive a discount on the cost of the IID installation, the monthly expenses, or the uninstall process. As judges, we want the driver to face some financial hardship with respect to the IID installation because we want him or her to take this aspect of the sentence seriously, but at the same time we do not want the driver to be unable to install the IID because it is too economically onerous to maintain the device.