During coronavirus lockdowns, DUI enforcement dropped off to almost nothing, at least in many areas. At the same time, drinking and driving increased significantly. Now, COVID-19 lockdowns are distant memories. So, aggressive enforcement is back, and the consequences of felony DUI charges in NY are significant. Yet many motorists in the Empire State continue to drink and drive. As a result, New York has one of the highest DUI arrest rates in the country.
DUI arrests have direct consequences, such as extended court supervision and collateral consequences, such as lengthy drivers’ license suspension. These adverse effects are even worse for felony DUI charges in NY. Probation is usually longer, and license suspension is also typically longer. Suspension may even be permanent in many cases.
Each felony court in Monroe County has a team of prosecutors determined to convict as many defendants as possible for the harshest crimes possible. Only an equally determined Rochester DUI lawyer can level the playing field and successfully resolve felony and other criminal cases. This successful resolution usually involves reducing felony DUI charges to misdemeanor charges.
Felony DUI Charges
Generally, prior convictions boost misdemeanor DUI charges to felony charges. Occasionally, prosecutors use aggravating circumstances, primarily severe injury or fatal collisions, to elevate DUI charges. Both forms of felony cases have proof issues that a Rochester DUI lawyer can exploit.
As for prior convictions, two priors in the last ten years usually raise misdemeanors to felonies. Generally, prosecutors must introduce certified copies of the prior conviction records in court.
Frankly, if the prior convictions were both in New York, certified copies are usually available and reliable. But that’s often not the case. Most people relocate frequently. That’s especially true if they have had some trouble with the law and want a fresh start. Out-of-state criminal records requests are usually very low on bureaucrat’s priority lists. These individuals reason that the defendant is another state’s problem.
Additionally, not all DUIs are created equally. Many states have an offense like OWI or operating while impaired. This infraction is not the same as DUI. So, the conviction record might not be relevant in New York for felony upgrade purposes.
As for DUI collision cases, these matters are notoriously difficult to prove in court. Many Monroe County prosecutors are unfamiliar with these cases with additional moving parts.
Specifically, the “driving” element of driving under the influence case is often troublesome. Generally, when emergency responders arrive at an accident scene, the defendant has exited the vehicle. So, one of two things must happen: either the defendant admits to the officer that they were driving, or an independent witness must have seen the defendant behind the wheel. Frequently, such proof is unavailable.
General DUI Defenses
Several procedural and substantive defenses are usually available in DUI cases, whether they are misdemeanors or felonies.
Illegal detention is usually the best procedural defense. Before an officer pulls over a motorist, the officer must have reasonable suspicion.
That’s an evidence-based hunch. It is not a hunch based on evidence. If Officer Jones suspects someone may be intoxicated and Officer Jones tails them until they commit a traffic violation, that’s not reasonable suspicion. That’s profiling someone.
Alternatively, an officer might detain a motorist at a DUI checkpoint. These roadblocks are only legal in New York if they fully adhere to strict rules.
Substantive DUI defenses usually involve intoxication. In about 80 percent of these matters, prosecutors rely on chemical samples, mostly breath samples, to prove intoxication. Like all other machines, Breathalyzers are not 100 percent reliable all the time. For example, these sophisticated devices require constant recalibration. Most judges throw out Breathalyzer results unless a maintenance record verifies their accuracy.
In the other 20 percent of DUI cases, prosecutors must rely on circumstantial evidence to prove intoxication. The field sobriety tests, such as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, usually provide this evidence.
The FSTs are even more uncertain than chemical test results, as the HGN test illustrates. Intoxication is only one possible cause of nystagmus. This condition, which is also called lazy eye, is widespread. In fact, many people have a lazy eye, but they do not know it because the symptoms are so mild. So, these individuals automatically fail HGN tests, whether they are drunk or sober.
Get Your Free Consultation With a DUI Lawyer
Misdemeanor DUI charges are bad, but felony charges are even worse. For a free consultation with an experienced Rochester DUI lawyer, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. After hours, virtual and jail visits are available.