What Is Leandra's Law? Penalties for a DUI/DWI in New York

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Leandra's Law became part of the New York statutes in 2009. It made changes to the state's drunk driving laws, strengthening the penalties against motorists who drink and drive. The core provision found in Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1192(2-a)(b) makes it a felony for someone to drive while intoxicated (DWI) with a child in the vehicle. Leandra's Law also mandated the use of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) for anyone convicted of an aggravated DWI charge.

History of Leandra's Law

Leandra's Law was enacted by the New York legislature and signed into law in 2009. The law was inspired by, and named after, Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old girl who was killed in a vehicle accident. She was a passenger in a vehicle driven by the intoxicated mother of one of her friends.

The accident occurred on October 11, 2009, on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York City. Carmen Huertas was driving a car with seven children in it on the way to a sleepover. One of them was Leandra Rosado. Huerta was driving while under the influence of alcohol and speeding. She lost control of the car and it flipped over, killing Leandra and injuring the six other children. Huerta was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison on October 29, 2010.

On November 18, 2009, Leandra's Law was signed into law in New York state. It is also called the Child Passenger Protection Act. It strengthens the drunk driving laws in the state, including making it an automatic felony to drive while intoxicated with a child age 15 or younger in the car.

Leandra's Law Felony

Most New York DWI offenses are charged as lesser offenses – infractions or misdemeanors. Infractions carry a maximum potential jail sentence of 15 days, while those convicted of misdemeanors face no more than one year in jail. The more serious crimes are felonies, which carry a potential prison term greater than one year.

Leandra's Law amended the Vehicle and Traffic Code to make it an automatic felony to drive while intoxicated (0.08 BAC or greater) or while impaired by drugs with a child aged 15 years or younger as a passenger in the car. This applies in all cases, even first-time DWIs.

The act of driving drunk with a child in the car is classified as a Class E felony in New York State, punishable by up to four years in state prison. If the child suffers serious physical injury, it is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in state prison. If the child dies, it is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. If the person driving is legally responsible for the child, like a parent, guardian or custodian, the arresting law enforcement officer must report it as child abuse to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.

Leandra's Law and Ignition Interlock Devices

The ignition interlock device (IID) is a type of breathalyzer that connects to a car's ignition system. It prevents the vehicle from starting unless the operator breathes into the device and is found to have a BAC of under 0.025 percent. While the vehicle is running, from time to time the IID requires the driver to repeat the breath test. If the driver doesn't, the device causes the vehicle to start honking or trips an alarm until the vehicle is turned off.

Leandra's Law amended the DWI laws in New York to add a mandatory ignition interlock device requirement following a DWI conviction. That is, when someone is convicted of any DWI offense that is a misdemeanor or felony, the law requires the installation of an IID in any vehicle the driver owns or uses. Initially, the period the IID had to remain installed was six months.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is directed to add the IID restriction to the person's driving record, and it is also added to the back of the driver's license document. Anyone ordered to use an IID, but who drives a vehicle that doesn't have one installed, is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. If prosecuted by the district attorney, this crime is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Amendments to Leandra's Law

Since its enactment, Leandra's Law protections have been amended to strengthen these punishments, including extending the period of time a convicted driver must use an interlock ignition device from six months to one year. Lawmakers felt that some drivers waited out the six-month period in order to avoid having to use the device or lied about having a vehicle. The revised law also requires IID use for juvenile offenders, and allows a court to order the installation of the IID before sentencing to give the court more oversight.

Another major change to Leandra’s Law involves drivers who had been previously convicted of DWI charges in New York State. Now, drivers who have a conditional license (allows only driving to work or school) after a DWI conviction, face felony charges if they drive impaired again.

Cost of an IID

The installation and use of an IID is an expensive process. The driver has to pay an installation fee, as well as a monthly fee for the duration of the use of the device. They also have to pay to have the IID removed at the end of the term. While every IID provider has its own fee schedule, it is typical for the installation and removal to run at least $200, with monthly fees about $100. If the driver owns or uses more than one vehicle, each must have an IID. There is a limited exception for on-the-job use of an employer's vehicle in some cases.

A driver who cannot afford the costs of the IID may be able to have the fee waived. The court requires the driver to complete a financial disclosure form for its review, and only drivers with serious money restrictions will be granted a waiver.

Other Penalties for Violations

A violation of Leandra's Law will also result in a one-year suspension of a driver's license. The law itself mandates a license suspension in aggravated DWI cases. That is, anyone picked up by the police and charged with driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or greater with a child 15 years or younger in the car automatically will have their license suspended.

In addition to imprisonment and the installation of an IID, other penalties can also be imposed on a driver. These include attendance at a Victim Impact Panel, a $520 surcharge and a three-year DMV assessment totaling $750.