2009-12-04 / Top Stories

Paterson Signs New DWI Legislation

Governor David A. Paterson today signed into law Governor's Program Bill No. 204, the Child Passenger Pro tection Act, now known as Leandra's Law.

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.

"When I introduced The Child Pas s enger Protection Act - now known as Leandra's Law - it was because too often drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs chose to compromise not only their own lives, but also the lives of our children. Today, we say enough," Paterson said. "This legislation sets some of the toughest DWI penalties in the nation, providing law enforcement officials with the tools they need to prosecute offenders. I thank my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly for working to prevent future tragedies of young lives needlessly cut short."

Lenny Rosado, father of Leandra Rosado for whom the bill is named, said, "Today is a glorious day. I would like to thank Governor Pater - son for his leadership on this issue. He is a good and honest man. We spoke parent to parent and I believe in him as a man, a parent and lead - er.

We stand together today to save more lives."

Senate Majority Conference Lead - er John L. Sampson said: "Drunk driving has cost too many New York ers their lives, and the time has come for us to hold drunk drivers ac - countable. I commend Senators Dil - an and Fuschillo for their bipartisan leadership, along with Governor Pater son and the Assembly, in cracking down on reckless behavior and making New York safer."

Senate President Pro Tempore Mal colm A. Smith said, "By strengthening both prevention and punishment, this legislation is a strong step forward in our ongoing effort to eliminate the needless and tragic deaths caused by drunk drivers. Too many lives are put on the line every day through this reckless and thought less act, and it is long overdue that we take a tough stance against this unacceptable conduct."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, "We have heard from the family of Leandra Rosado, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and law en - forcement, district attorneys and concerned citizens from across New York State, who demand the comprehensive protections and punishments that this law will provide. With the passage of this legislation, New York will have the toughest sentences for any first time DWI of - fense in the nation, including man - datory interlock systems for those convicted of drunken driving. This sends an important message; drive intoxicated with a child, get charged with a felony."

Under the new law:

First time offenders driving while intoxicated (.08 Blood Alcohol Con - tent (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 pris on.

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 ig - nition interlock on any vehicle own - ed 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 fel ony, punishable by up to 15 years in State prison.

Individuals who are a parent, guard ian, 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 court's discretion. Experience in other states has shown interlocks to be an extraordinary effective tool in curtailing drunk driving.

In passing this legislation, New York joins 35 states that have special "child endangerment" laws to im pose higher DWI sanctions against individuals who place a child passenger at risk.

It joins twelve other states with across-the-board mandatory interlock laws.

Senator Martin Malavé Dilan, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said, "Leandra's Law is a long-over due measure that toughens pen- alties for those who knowingly put children at risk when getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

I applaud Gov ernor Paterson for proposing this groundbreaking legislation and in do ing so protecting New York's children and families."

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