Leandra’s law goes into effect in New York within a few days and I know many New York drivers feel in the dark about the new law and how it will affect them. The law will now make it a felony to drive drunk with a minor in the car as well as require anyone with a DWI offense to install an ignition interlock device.
With any new law, there are certain complexities that arise. To provide some insight, we have New York and Connecticut attorney Jeffrey J. Jowdy to explain how he feels about the law and how it can affect you.
RK: Have any of your clients been required to use ignition interlocks before? How did they react?
JJ: I have had a number of clients who have had to install ignition interlocks on their motor vehicles. After the initial shock my clients have come to accept the device as necessary for being able to maintain the ability to transport themselves without relying upon others or public transportation.
Initially the cost was a very large factor in how they reacted, but since costs of the devices and the monitoring services that issue is not as severe as it was a couple of years ago.
I have had clients with pending cases install the device as a way to improve their cases while they were pending. I have found this to be a useful tool in negotiating pleas.
Unfortunately however, the Departments of Motor Vehicles that we work with are still having difficulties in issuing conditional licenses that require ignition interlock devices. I am sure that when the new law goes into effect next month those difficulties will decrease.
RK: How do you think Leandra’s law will affect your cases in the future?
JJ: There will be a substantial affect on any case involving minor passengers. In the past cases like this were dealt with using risk of injury to minor type penal laws. Now that there is legislation specific to these cases that creates a felony for any offender, it will make cases more likely to go to trial and severely limit plea negotiations.
Anytime a new “crime” is created by the legislature, it is significant.
RK: Do you feel Leandra’s law is fair or do you find it too harsh?
JJ: I understand the position of the legislature in cases such as this and do believe that legislation specific to DWI charges involving minor passengers was needed. I think that making the charge a felony regardless of other extenuating circumstances is too harsh.
Anytime new legislation like this is created I often wish that it is done with varying degrees within the offense itself. I believe that there should be accelerated penalties for those who commit this offense with any prior DUI/DWI conviction on their record and that there should be more flexibility in dealing with First Time DWI/DUI offenders who find themselves charged with violating Leandra’s Law.
RK: What do you think the most important information NY drivers should know about Leandra’s law?
JJ: Obviously, the most important element of the law is that it is a felony to drive with a BAC over .08 with a passenger under 15 years old or younger.
.08% BAC is not a very high threshold and the fact that mere operation is now a felony, NY drivers should be even more mindful of their alcohol intake when they know that they will be transporting minors.
RK: Do you think Connecticut will follow in the same fashion as other states and update their ignition interlock law to require anyone with a DUI offense to have one?
JJ: At this time I am not aware of any plans for the State of Connecticut to update their DUI legislation to include ignition interlock devices.
The way Connecticut has set up its DUI laws does make for an easy transition should they wish to make an ignition interlock device mandatory however.
For first offenders, the Law requires that the offender’s Connecticut License or their Privilege to drive in Connecticut be suspended for a period of one year. Any requirement for an ignition interlock device can accompany this suspension. Moreover, since people who plead to DUI offenses in Connecticut usually have a prior arrest for DUI, legislation such as this might provide offenders with an ability to drive when it may not have existed previously.
For more information on Jeffrey Jowdy and state DWI laws, you can visit his New York page or his Connecticut page.
The Smart Start of New York website has useful information and can help you find an ignition interlock in New York.