New York City DWAI Drugs Penalties

A recent development in New York in the prosecution of VTL § 1192(4) cases is the growing use of Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs, by law enforcement to examine accident victims and motorists suspected of a driving while ability impaired by drugs (DWAI-Drugs). The protocol for a DRE examination is quite similar to that of a field sobriety test in that its purpose is to determine whether you exhibit certain objective or recognizable symptoms or side-effects of a controlled substance. Specifically, it is the DRE’s job to determine through these series of tests (1) whether or not you are of impaired mental or physical ability; (2) whether that impairment, if any, relates to the prior use or ingestion of drugs, whether illegal or prescribed; and (3) whether that drug qualifies as a controlled substance under Section 3306 of the New York Public Health Law. If the DRE officer determines that you are of impaired driving ability due to previously consuming a controlled substance, their observations and conclusions may be offered by prosecutors at a later criminal trial on the issue of impairment.

With the testimony of Drug Recognition Experts in hand, the prosecution does not need to show cumulative traffic infractions or egregious driving conduct to establish you were impaired. As all top New York City DWI and DWAI-Drugs defense lawyers know, the standard of impairment for the misdemeanor offense of DWAI-Drugs is identical to the violation of Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (or DWAI-Alcohol). Specifically, for both of these offenses, the prosecution does not need to prove you were intoxicated or utterly incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle. Rather, all they are required to show is that your mental faculties and coordination level had been diminished from what would otherwise be expected of a reasonably safe driver in a sober condition. With such a low standard for impairment, driving in New York City after ingesting any substance that may alter or dilute any possessed motor skills is an extremely risky position, especially if you hope to avoid the New York City DWAI-Drugs penalties.

Potential Criminal Penalties for Drugged Driving in New York City

In the event of a conviction under VTL § 1192(4) – the state’s drugged driving statute – the following penalties and punishments may be imposed for a first time offense:

  • Incarceration in jail for up to one year
  • A period of probation of three years
  • A fine of $500 to $1,000
  • Revocation of defendant’s vehicle registration for a period of at least six months
  • Attendance at a session of a victim impact panel
  • Surcharge Fee of $370
  • Crime Victim Assistance Fee of $25
  • Revocation of driver’s license for a period of at least six months

An individual whose license is revoked solely for having been convicted of a VTL § 1192(4) offense will generally not be eligible to receive a conditional license for the period of lost driving privileges.

Does It Matter If the Drug Is a Controlled Substance?

Notably, state law makes no distinction between controlled substances and non-controlled substances when it comes to arrests and convictions for driving while ability impaired by drugs. Whether someone’s ability to operate a vehicle safely is impacted by an illicit substance, a legally prescribed medication, or even something they got over-the-counter is irrelevant in the eyes of the prosecution handling this kind of offense.

This is particularly noteworthy given the recent decriminalization of marijuana in New York. Even though blood tests for THC levels are not very dependable indicators of actual impairment, it is still possible—and in fact common—for police officers to charge individuals with a DWAI-Drug offense for driving while high.

What Penalties May Be Imposed for Subsequent DWAI Drug Convictions?

Like most other forms of DWAI-related offenses, being convicted more than once for a DWAI-Drug offense in New York City can result in enhanced criminal penalties upon convictions. A second DWAI-Drug offense within 10 years of a conviction for any kind of DWAI offense is automatically upgraded to a class E felony offense, and a conviction could result in fines of $1,000 to $5,000 as well as a maximum prison sentence of four years and a one-year license revocation. Third and subsequent DWAI-Drug convictions within 10 years are class D felonies that may result in even harsher sanctions—namely, $2,000 to $10,000 in fines and up to seven years of imprisonment, as well as a possible permanent license revocation if all the offenses occurred within four years of each other.

Is It Possible to Refuse Participation in Field Sobriety Tests?

Importantly, the “implied consent” rule applicable to chemical tests for intoxication does not apply to field sobriety tests. Accordingly, if someone is pulled over on suspicion of driving while ability impaired by drugs and asked to perform field sobriety tests, they are under no obligation to consent to those tests, and their license cannot automatically be suspended based on that refusal. However, refusal to participate in field sobriety tests can be admitted as evidence against a defendant in court, so the decision not to perform these tests could have positive or negative consequences depending on the circumstances.

Schedule a Consultation with a New York City Attorney to Discuss the DWAI Drug Penalties

If you or a family member has been arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs, please be diligent in the search for an attorney as the penalties for a New York City DWAI drug offense can be harsh. With over 30 years of cumulative practice experience, the top New York DWI and DWAI-Drugs defense lawyers at our firm have handled scores of these cases in the Greater New York City Area, including the suburban counties of Long Island and Westchester. While we cannot guarantee a particular outcome for your DWAI-Drugs case, we can provide the guidance and representation you need to both understand and address the legal consequences of a New York drugged driving arrest.

Speak to one of the attorneys at our firm and begin the process of preparing a defense the charges of drugged driving today. Your clean record and liberty may depend on it.

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