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Low conviction rates for misdemeanor DWI charges in some areas

Almost everyone is aware that driving while under the influence of alcohol is against the law. The penalties for a person convicted of driving while intoxicated are tough in the state of New York, but in Erie county, only around 17 percent of people arrested for misdemeanor DWI are actually convicted.

A New York District Attorney says that he thinks the judges in western New York are lenient in misdemeanor DWI cases. Several counties in the western portion of the state have low conviction rates in DWI cases.

In one case, a drunk driver hit a utility pole and refused to take a breath test. Once in custody, he ended up urinating on the floor. When confronted, he denied urinating even while he was in the process of doing so. The judge in that case dropped the misdemeanor DWI charge, but convicted him with "driving impaired," which is a lesser violation.

The DA says that he thinks judges want to give first offenders a break. Defense attorneys point to the DA's plea policy as the reason for a lot of reductions, however. In cases where the blood alcohol level is below .13 and there is no accident, a first-time offender can usually plead guilty to driving impaired instead of a misdemeanor DWI.

The differences between the two charges are considerable. Driving while impaired is a traffic violation comparable to a speeding ticket. A conviction leads to a fine and a suspended license. Misdemeanor DWI charges, however, are a criminal offense that requires an ignition interlock device.

These stark differences show how important it is for people who are being charged with any type of impaired driving or DWI offenses to understand the implications of the charges so they can understand their plea options.

Source: WIVB.com, "Majority of drunk drivers in Erie County don’t face stiff punishment" Lou Raguse, May. 08, 2014

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