It's been over six years now now since New York state passed Leandra's Law. The law makes it a Class E felony to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs with a child younger than 16 in the car - even for a first offense.
If the child suffers serious physical injury, the offense gets bumped up to a C felony. It gets increased further, to a B felony, if a child dies due to the DWI.
In this post, we will update you on some of the common questions that continue to be asked about the law.
What do the felony levels mean?
A Class E felony is an offense that can be punished by a prison sentence of up to four years. A Class C felony can result in a sentence of up to 15 years incarceration. For a Class B felony, it's up to 25 years.
What other consequences are there?
The consequences imposed by Leandra's Law do not only involve threats of prison time. If you are charged with driving with a BAC of .08 or more and have a child 15 or younger with you, your driver's license will be automatically suspended.
Leandra's Law also requires judges to order the installation of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) for anyone convicted of DWI. The devices are to be placed on vehicles owned or operated by the person who was convicted and must be maintained for a certain period of time.
There is also a consequence involving your parental rights. If you are convicted of driving while impaired with a child under 16 in your car, the arresting agency is supposed to report you to a statewide child abuse registry.
How is the ignition interlock law working?
The gap between theory and practice in actually using the devices is large. We discussed that issue in our October 22 post.
In that post, we took note of a compliance report issued by the state comptroller last year. The report found that only a little more than 1 in 4 drivers statewide who were required to use the devices have actually done so.
How does the law define impaired driving for purposes of Leandra's Law?
For drunk driving, the standard is .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC). This is typically determined by a breathalyzer test.
Drugged driving does not have such a clear standard. The Public Health Law sets forth a long list of substances that can impair the ability to drive.
But New York does not have "per se" laws prohibiting certain amounts of these drugs. For example, there is no specified limit on THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
And if a substance isn't on the list, law enforcement can't prosecute you for driving with it in your system. This can apply to prescription drugs as well as new synthetic drugs and other substances that are not on the list.
What should you do if you are charged?
If you are charged with DWI and had a child passenger, you should get strong legal counsel. With such serious consequences at stake, it's important to protect your rights with a skilled advocate on your side.