What consequences do you face in New York state if you're convicted of impaired driving with a kid in the car?
In 2009, legislators passed a law known as Leandra's law to punish drivers convicted of impaired driving with an automatic felony conviction if they have minor children (15 or under) as passengers. At the time, advocates for stepped-up penalties described it as the toughest law in the nation.
Recently, however, data shows that in some counties, the percentage of drivers who are convicted of a felony after being charged under Leandra's law has actually dropped. Could this be at least in part because of diversion programs that allow someone to get treatment and avoid a felony conviction?
Application of the law
The short answer is yes, especially for first-time offenders.
Data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services suggests that the New York courts are shifting their focus from punishing the offender to treating the root cause of DUI to prevent repeat offenders.
Statewide, the felony conviction rate for drivers charged under Leandra's law has dropped steadily, from nearly 70 percent in 2011 to only 52 percent in 2016. But convictions for misdemeanors and other violations has risen to 48 percent.
Some prosecutors are quite candid about why this is happening. In written statements, both the Bronx District Attorney's Office and the Queen's District Attorney's Office noted that a key goal of sentencing first-time offenders is to get them to change their behavior. That means helping them get treatment in order to avoid repeat offenses.
More serious penalties
To be sure, the more serious penalties under Leandra's law are still possible. Conviction can carry a prison sentence of up to four years, as well as a mandatory ignition interlock device and a hefty fine. The penalties increase depending on the extent of the incident, such as if the child has been injured.
The sentencing data suggest, however, that it is often possible for first-time offenders to get a break on by entering a treatment program.
There will surely be other questions about Leandra's law that continue to arise.
If you have been charged with driving under the influence, consult with an attorney who can protect your rights and interests.