A Review of New York State's STOP-DWI Program

STOP-DWI Law

New York is one of few States to have a two-tier system for alcohol violations. The STOP-DWI law derives program funds from driving while intoxicated (DWI)/driving while ability-impaired (DWAI) offense fines, and these fines are directed to the counties. STOP-DWI fines have not increased in the past 10 years; however, associated court surcharges and fees have increased. The fines are collected by the court, judge, magistrate, or other officer of the county (State of New York Department of Motor Vehicles, 2003). The number of arrests and convictions, regardless of the law enforcement agency or court involved, for DWI and DWAI form the cornerstone for program resources. These laws apply to private passenger and commercial vehicles, although penalties and fines for commercial drivers vary and are not the emphasis of this report. The New York State Police receive no money from STOP-DWI and the New York State Unified Court System is not incorporated within the administrative or funding systems. STOP-DWI funds are not directed to the State general fund.

Drivers in New York are legally subject to implied consent for BAC testing, where the license is automatically suspended for refusal even if the impaired driver is not convicted. DWAI is based on a BAC of .05 or higher; DWI applies to driver BAC of .08 or higher. The two-tier system allows the State to have the “no-plea-bargaining-out-of-alcohol” law. Offenders may have their DWI arrests dropped to DWAI convictions for first-time offenses, but may not plea to a nonalcohol offense (e.g., reckless driving). This is important to ensure offenders are still convicted under an alcohol offense, beginning the tracking system for repeat offenders. The designation of a misdemeanor versus a felony is based on the type and frequency of the DWI offense. The fines, penalties, and license actions increase with each DWI or DWAI offense. Refer to Table 2 for a brief summary of the current DWI/DWAI laws.

The historical adoption of laws designed to reduce impaired driving and underage drinking in New York has correlated with the incentives and disincentives associated with Federal transportation funding for safety programs. For example, the .08 BAC law was only recently adopted in 2003, and the State of New York had made progress in reducing alcohol-related crashes and fatalities in spite of its .10 BAC law.

Table 2. Overview of Fines and Penalties for DWI/DWAI.

DWI OFFENSE
DWI FINE
DWI JAIL SENTENCE*
DWI LICENSE ACTION
1st Offense (Misdemeanor) $500 - $1,000
(+ fees)
Up to 1 Year Minimum 6-Month Revocation/Suspension**
2nd Offense (Within 10 years)Felony $1,000 - $5,000
(+ fees)
Up to 4 Years Minimum 1-Year Revocation**
3rd Offense (Within 10 years) $2,000 - $10,000
(+ fees)
Up to 7 years Minimum 3-Year Revocation**
DWAI OFFENSE
DWAI FINE
DWAI JAIL SENTENCE*
DWAI LICENSE ACTION
1st Offense $300 - $500* Up to 15 Days 90-Day Suspension
2nd Offense (Within 5 years) $500* - $750 Up to 30 Days Minimum 6-Month Revocation**
3rd Offense (Within 10 years) $750 - $1,500 Up to 180 Days Minimum 6-Month Revocation**

* Sentence can include alcohol treatment in lieu of jail, restitution for victims, and community service.
** Decision to reissue license by New York Dept. of Motor Vehicles. Repeat offenders are ineligible for restricted driving privileges.
Note: People under age of 21 subject to New York Zero-Tolerance law.
Data source(s): New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, 2003; New York State Police, 2000.

Of note are two other issues involving DWI/DWAI arrest data and offender fines, including court fees or surcharges, whereby both elements have an impact on STOP-DWI program funding. Not all arrests lead to prosecution, and not all convictions result in fines. Therefore, the criminal justice system and offender resources are tied directly to program revenue. Alternative sentences may be served in lieu of fines, at the discretion of court authorities, or convicted offenders may not pay fines. Finally, local, village, and other courts often require additional fees or surcharges for cases adjudicated. The local counties vary in terms of processes, including the ability to collect unpaid fines.