The Child Passenger Protection Act, now known as Leandras Law, discussed in our recent blog entry of November 9, was signed into law by Governor David A. Paterson on November 18, 2009. The legislation makes it a felony for individuals to drive while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs (DWI) with children in the car. Previously, this was considered a misdemeanor offense and could be treated as a traffic violation. The law also marks the first time that New York State has mandated ignition interlocks for all misdemeanor and felony DWIs.
With the passage of this legislation, New York will have the toughest sentences for any first time DWI offense in the nation. New York joins 35 states that have special child endangerment laws to impose higher DWI sanctions against individuals who place a child passenger at risk. It joins twelve other states with across-the-board mandatory interlock laws. Under the new law: First time offenders driving while intoxicated (.08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) or more) or impaired by drugs while a child of younger than 16 years old is in the vehicle may be charged with a class E felony punishable by up to 4 years in State prison.
Individuals charged with driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater and with a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle would automatically have their license suspended pending prosecution. Courts must order all drivers convicted of a misdemeanor or felony DWI to install and maintain an ignition interlock on any vehicle owned and operated by such driver for at least 6 months, in addition to any term imprisonment.
The Department of Probation and Correctional Alternatives will issue regulations that will provide counties with different options for supervising the use of interlocks, so as to ensure that they can determine the most appropriate mechanism for their needs. Drivers who drive while intoxicated or impaired by drugs and cause the death of a child younger than 16 in the car may be charged with a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in State prison. Drivers who drive while intoxicated or impaired by drugs and cause serious physical injury to a child in the vehicle may be charged with the Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in State prison.
Individuals who are a parent, guardian, custodian or otherwise legally responsible for a child who are charged with driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs while that child is a passenger in the car would be reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment by the arresting agency. Interlock provisions mandate the installation of a device that makes the car inoperable unless the individual demonstrates via breathalyzer that he or she is not under the influence of alcohol. The installation of such a device as a sanction for a DWI offense was previously left to the courts discretion. Experience in other states has shown interlocks to be an extraordinary effective tool in curtailing drunk driving.
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