Driving While Impaired or Intoxicated Charges in Westchester and Putnam County Criminal Courts

Driving While Impaired or Intoxicated cases are quite common in the Westchester local Criminal Courts as well as the Putnam County local Criminal Courts.  It is easy to imagine DWI cases as all being of the same sort of thing, but in the same way that the term "cars" includes a bewildering variety of vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and complexity, Driving While Intoxicated cases include a bewildering variety of cases of all levels of seriousness and complexity.  

Levels of Seriousness of DWI CASES

At the smallest and simplest end would be a case where a person with no criminal history at all is accused of driving while impaired.  There is no accident involved and there is nobody else in the car, and there is no refusal to take a breath test.  Driving while impaired is actually a non-criminal offense, although it can carry a hefty punch in terms of consequences to your license, insurance, and bank account (fines and surcharges to DMV can be severe).

A step up in severity would be the misdemeanor charge of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).  Perhaps the most common of all the DWI related offenses charged, DWI cases make up a significant portion of the criminal court calendars in Westchester and Putnam County local criminal courts.  In the simplest possible circumstances, a person with no criminal criminal record is charged, does not refuse to take the breath test, blows a reading just a bit over the .08 limit, was not involved in an accident, and there were no other occupants in the vehicle.

Further upgrades in severity of DWI related offenses can transform a DWI into a felony matter or even a case that might properly be deemed a homicide case.  

Driving While Intoxicated Cases are Political

Settlement in DWI cases can be tricky to come by in part because DWI cases are generally considered to be a political hot potato.  Judges and prosecutors vie against each other to make sure that nothing about the settlement can come back to haunt them politically if a person who settles a DWI case in some arguably favorable way, at some point in the future gets charged with another DWI, especially if that DWI results in severe injury or death to someone other than the accused.  Getting tough on DWI cases is never an unpopular political position, and so our DWI laws are ever being tweaked and poked and prodded and the policies of the local District Attorneys in Westchester and Putnam County are also every being evaluated an re-evaluated. 

Programs, policies, and prosecutorial style are constantly shifting sands in the realm of Driving While Intoxicated cases.  This can often create complications in paths to the sorts of settlements that many people caught up in the Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) system hope to achieve.  As a result, if you have a dwi case in Westchester County, for example, it would typically make sense to gain the insight of a Westchester dwi attorney so that you can be sure that you have the most up to date information about how your particular local Westchester court deals with your particular type of case.

Important Facts About Your Driving While Intoxicated Case

Small factual tweaks in a DWI case can make a big difference in the availability of more or less favorable settlements.  When you discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, you will likely hit several factors that will likely make a big difference in the assessment of the quality of the defense available as well as the quality of the settlements that are likely to be available.  These factors include, 1) was there an accident, 2) did you take the breath test at the police station, 3) what was the breath test result, if you know, 4) was there anyone else in the car with you, 5) what did you say to the police officer about whether or not or what you had to drink, 6) was there any alcohol in the vehicle with you, 7) what led the police officer to pull you over in the first place, if you know, 8) have you ever been accused or convicted of a DWI related offense before, 9) have you ever been convicted of anything before, 10) were you taking any medication.  There are plenty of other important issues, but these questions will come up again and again.  Obviously, if you were not actually the driver of a vehicle, some of these questions would not apply.

Types of DWI Defenses

Several defenses are common in the context of DWI related offenses.  First, of course is the possibility that you were not even the driver of the vehicle in the first place, but that the police have for one reason or another assumed that you were driving.  An example of how this might happen is in a case where there is an accident and the police come to the scene to find a person drunk and staggering outside the vehicle.  This person is incoherent but they figure out that it is the person's car.  So they arrest him.  When the person comes to his senses he tries to tell the police that someone else was driving the car who was his designated driver and that the designated driver must have run away.  Perhaps the police refuse to believe this and maintain the case.  In cases such as this, the case is not so much about whether or not the person was intoxicated as whether or not the person was the driver of the vehicle.  In this defense, intoxication doesn't matter at all.  The defense boils down to whether the Government is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether the person was the driver.

If the issue of being the driver is not present in the case, then often times the cases depend upon attacks on the accuracy of the breath test machines, or even the blood test results, if any.  Attacking the accuracy of the breath test machines can involve sophisticated expert testimony.   Without delving too deeply into it, you can begin to understand where some of the criticisms of the breath test machines come from by thinking about what is going on for a moment.  Remember that the law prohibits a level of alcohol in your BLOOD.  In order to be guilty of DWI based on some sort of scientific test, the Government must demonstrate that the amount of alcohol in your BLOOD while you were in control of a vehicle was over a particular limit.  With this in mind, I always ask my clients who took the test to tell me exactly how much BLOOD they poured into the machine at the police station for analysis.  They always look at me as if I am crazy and they will eventually say that they didn't pour any blood into the machine, they blew air into the machine.  So, you blow air into the machine, and the machine magically spits out a piece of paper that purports to tell us how much alcohol is in your blood.  How nice, right?

But if you are thinking, "Wait a minute, how does the machine spit out a piece of paper with my BLOOD alcohol level on it when I don't put any BLOOD in the machine?" then you have taken your first step toward the realization that the breath machine at the police station may have some "issues" of its own.  And it does.  While there is an answer founded in a legitimate scientific principle, to the question I have raised here, that answer requires that several assumptions about you are true or else there will be a margin of error in the result on that piece of paper.  These assumptions include the complex (like the rate at which your body, and not some assumed perfect human body, disposes of alcohol) and the simple (like that your body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).  By the way, before you blew into their machine, did they take your temperature?  No, they didn't, because they just want to assume that your body temperature is some idealized human body temperature.  

These errors contained within the machine can produce uncertainty about the result.  Just how much uncertainty is up for debate and will depend on the individual case and the individual body chemistry of the person accused.  You see?   I told you that DWI cases could be complex.

"Collateral" Issues with Driving While Intoxicated Cases

DWI cases in Westchester and Putnam Counties can also create problems for those accused outside the Criminal Justice System.  The ability to have a driver's license is often implicated, especially where there was a refusal to take the breath test at the police station.  Also problematic is the issue of vehicle forfeiture, where the police quite literally sue you in civil court to take your car away from you as the instrumentality of a crime.  They can do this even if you win the criminal case at a trial.  DWI cases therefore create a nest of problems, whether the obvious problem of being accused of a crime or the not so obvious problem that you could lose your driver's license or even your car.

At Shalley and Murray, we have been defending people accused of Driving While Impaired or Driving While Intoxicated in Westchester and Putnam Counties for more than 20 years.  We can help you too.  Call us for a free consultation so we can start helping you as soon as possible.


James Shalley, partner at Shalley and Murray, finds driving while intoxicated cases a fascinating focus of his practice in Westchester and Putnam County.  Mr. Shalley has considerable experience and expertise in the complex and ever changing space of driving while intoxicated or impaired accusations with a demonstrated record of success.

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