A Guide To First-Offense DWIs In New York
Being pulled over for DWI (driving while intoxicated) the first time can be scary. You may have a lot of questions about what is happening. This guide will answer most of your questions about New York DWIs. Specifically, it will tell you what to expect from your first Buffalo area DWI charge (sometimes also referred to as a DUI). Topics covered in this guide include:
- The Arrest Process
- Field Sobriety Test
- Breath And Blood Tests
- Implied Consent
- What About Drug DUIs?
- Penalties You May Face
- What Is A DWAI?
- How It Can Change Your Life
Understanding Your Charges
New York law makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) over .08% for most drivers. Most often, the police determine the BAC through a breath test. If you have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), you cannot have more than .04% while driving a commercial vehicle. If you are under 21 years old, the state applies a “zero tolerance” policy, but the law actually states your BAC must be under .02%. Driving under the influence of drugs also violates the law but is tested slightly differently with a blood test.
In addition, even if your BAC is only between .05% and .0799%, law enforcement may still charge you with Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) if the officer can produce other evidence of impaired driving, such as erratic driving or a failed field sobriety test.
The Turbo Team at Trbovich Law Firm knows exactly what you are going through, including all the legal hurdles you face. When you are looking for legal help with your DWI, look no further than Trbovich Law Firm. We have decades of experience helping clients throughout Western New York with their DWI charges. Call us for a free initial consultation today at 716-222-1563 or send us an email.
In the meantime, keep reading to learn more about the DWI process in the Buffalo area.
When you see those lights in your rearview mirror, don’t panic. If you have been drinking, you have reason to be concerned, but keep calm. You can expect the following things to happen when an officer pulls you over on suspicion of drunk driving:
- The stop
- The field sobriety test
- The arrest
- Chemical testing
- Contacting an attorney
When the officer pulls you over, be respectful, but remember that you have the right not to answer questions, other than providing your identification and registration to the officer. If he or she asks whether you have been drinking, simply say that you respectfully decline to answer that question. You can also state that you choose not to answer questions without an attorney present.
If the officer suspects you have been drinking, he or she may ask you to take a field sobriety test (FST). Many people assume they must take this test, but the truth is that you do not have to take the FST. You do not even have to get out of the car unless directly ordered to by the officer.
In fact, the officer may try to make his or her request to get out of the car sound like a command, to trick you into getting out. Ask the officer directly if they are ordering you out of the car. If so, you must comply, but otherwise, you can decline.
The officer will then ask you to take the FST. Again, you can refuse without being charged with a traffic offense or a crime. The FST generally consists of three parts:
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus test: The officer will check your eyes for signs of intoxication.
- The walk-and-turn test: You will be asked to see if you can walk a straight line and pivot to walk back without stumbling or losing balance.
- The finger-to-nose test: The officer will ask you to stand with your legs together, look up with your arms held out to the side and touch your finger to your nose. Mainly, they are checking to see if you follow directions correctly.
They may include other tests, but these three are the most common. Some people find these actions difficult even when sober. The slightest infraction gives the officer more ammunition for your DUI charges, so you gain nothing by taking the test, unless you are fully confident you can easily perform all actions, you have not been drinking and you just want the officer to send you on your way.
Some officers carry a portable breath test that they will ask you to blow into. If you refuse, you may be given a traffic citation, but you do not face criminal charges for your refusal, unlike the breathalyzer at the police station.
Help Your Case, Not The Officer’s
Remember that the officer is trying to build a case against you for drunk driving. Don’t do his job for him! If he keeps pushing, state that you would like to speak to your attorney before answering any questions or performing any tests. You may annoy the officer, but you are helping your case. At this point, the officer will probably arrest you, but he or she was planning on doing that anyway. Make sure you call Trbovich Law Firm at 716-222-1563 at your first opportunity to put the Turbo Team to work for you.
Law enforcement will take you to the police station where they will process you and perform a breathalyzer test with a machine. The machine is meant to test the percentage of alcohol in your blood, which is a major element of your DWI charge. You may be surprised at how only a couple of drinks can affect you. The machines are not perfect, however, and we can and will challenge the results. Grounds for challenging the test may include:
- New York State Department of Health must approve the make and model the police department uses for testing.
- The officer who administers the test must be properly trained on the machine.
- The machine must be properly calibrated.
- The officer must give you the chemical test refusal warning.
In certain situations, the officer may choose to do a blood or urine test, instead. They often choose these tests if they suspect you have taken some sort of drug, rather than drinking alcohol. They may look for traces of marijuana, other illegal drugs or even legal prescription drugs that could impair your driving.
If you undergo a blood test, you should also consider having an independent test done. The blood test is a delicate process and prone to human error. The officer should advise you that you have the right to take an extra sample for independent testing.
You have another choice at this point regarding whether to take the breathalyzer or blood test. Unlike the FST, however, you do face consequences for refusal. New York is an implied consent state, which means that you accepted certain conditions to obtain your driver’s license, including consent to BAC testing.
By refusing the test, you give up your driving privileges for one year for your first offense. In some scenarios, you may prefer a suspended driver’s license to a DWI charge on your record. The penalties are much harsher for drunk driving, especially if you have a prior DWI on your record. If you think you will likely fail the test, you may consider refusing to take it. If you have the chance to consult with an attorney, call our office at 716-222-1563 to help you make this difficult decision.
Of course, drunk driving is not the only way to get in trouble with the law. Driving with drugs in your system is also illegal. In New York, this is called Driving While Ability Impaired-Drugs (DWAI-Drugs). The drug itself may be legal for you to take and still cause impairment, too. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can affect your driving.
You could face charges for driving with any of the following in your system:
- “Street drugs” such as cocaine, heroin or ecstasy
- Prescription pain killers
These are just examples. The important factor is whether you are able to drive based on your mental and physical condition.
If the police arrest you for DWAI-Drugs, the officer may administer a urine or blood test, as noted above. Law enforcement will generally combine the test results with an officer’s other observations regarding your physical and mental state at the time of your arrest in order to build a case against you.
The law does not give a clear definition of “ability impaired,” which leaves room for argument and interpretation. Every person reacts to drugs and medication differently. For example, perhaps Zoloft impacts some drivers’ reaction times, but that does not mean it affected you in that way.
Trbovich Law Firm will always vigorously defend your DWAI case, either by moving to dismiss the charges, by plea bargaining down to a more favorable charge, or by arguing your level of actual impairment at trial. New York law makes plea bargaining very difficult in regular DWI cases, but DWAI-Drug cases have slightly more leeway.
Let’s face it. Your first question is probably going to be, “How much trouble am I in?” New York takes DWI offenses seriously, and the penalties prove it. Although your first DWI offense is considered a misdemeanor, you can face the following penalties:
- A fine between $500 and $1,000
- Up to one year in jail
- Three years of probation
- Installation of an ignition interlock device
- Your driver’s license revoked for up to six months
- Court charges and fees
- Attendance at a Victim Impact Panel
- Three years of driver responsibility assessments, at your cost
- Your registration revoked for six months or more
You may face some or all these consequences, depending on the circumstances of your case. Charges for DWAI for drugs carry the same penalties as a DWI. Charges for DWAI for alcohol with less than .08% BAC, however, carry somewhat lesser penalties and is considered only a traffic citation and not a criminal conviction.
Although courts may go easier on a first-time offender, you still face a permanent blemish on your driving record. Don’t just accept your fate. Fight for your future by hiring an experienced DWI attorney. Call The Turbo Team today at 716-222-1563.
If your case includes certain factors, a prosecutor may charge you with Aggravated DWI, which can increase the penalties you face. New York law defines aggravated DWI as having a BAC of over .18%. This is still a misdemeanor, but the fines increase, and your license revocation goes up to one year.
In addition, New York’s Leandra’s Law makes it a felony to drive intoxicated with a passenger under the age of 16 years old in your car. Additional aggravated charges involve multiple offenses within 10 years. If you are charged with any type of aggravated DWI, contact Trbovich Law Firm right away to discuss your options.
What About Your Driver’s License?
Losing your driver’s license, even for a few months, can have a big impact on your life. You may have trouble getting to work, picking up kids or running regular errands. In some cases, you may be able to get a hardship license. In addition, you could be eligible for a conditional license if you enroll in an Impaired Driver Program. The attorneys at Trbovich Law Firm can help you determine your best options regarding your license.
A DWI on your record goes beyond the legal penalties imposed by New York. You could face personal consequences, such as problems keeping or getting a new job, especially if your job depends on your driver’s license. You could lose your commercial driver’s license (CDL) altogether.
A DWI can also cause your family problems and social stigma, and will stay on your record. You cannot have a DWI expunged or sealed because law enforcement will use your prior conviction against you if they arrest you for another DWI.
In addition, the Canadian government will not allow you into Canada for a minimum of five years with a DWI or DWAI on your record. After that, you can apply for special permission to enter Canada.
The consequences of a DWI are far-reaching. That is why Trbovich Law Firm takes these cases so seriously and fights to keep your record clean, even from the first offense.
Trbovich Law Firm Is Here To Defend Your Rights
The attorneys at Trbovich Law Firm take your fight seriously. We will defend you throughout your DWI process, fighting to keep your record clean. Call us today at 716-222-1563 or send an email to schedule a free consultation at one of our three locations throughout the Buffalo area.