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The Perils of Driving While Intoxicated


Imagine this scenario: you are a tenured school administrator, participating in an end of year golf outing with a group of your colleagues. The event is an annual affair, but not necessarily sponsored by your school district. You play your round of golf, have a drink or two over the 5 hour round, and have one more round with appetizers before you say good bye. You are leaving earlier than most, because you have to pick up your ten year old who is playing baseball. You retrieve your child are about 2 miles from your home. As you are about to exit the highway, you notice several police officers who have set up a road block.

As you proceed through the check point, an officer asks you to pull over. The officer notices that your vehicle has an expired inspection sticker and is about to issue you a ticket. He asks for your license and registration. He also asks you if you’ve been drinking. You blurt out that you were playing golf and had a beer before you came home. The officer decides to have you perform a few field sobriety tests. Based on his observations, he also asks you blow into an alco-sensor device. To your shock and dismay, you failed two of the three field sobriety tests and the alco-sensor device indicates unacceptable levels of alcohol. You are placed under arrest, the handcuffs are fastened and you are now sitting in the back seat of the squad car. The entire scene is played out in front of your ten year old son. Another officer arrives and transports your son to the police station where he awaits your arrival.

While in police custody you observe your son who is visibly upset when he sees you being brought into the station in handcuffs. The arresting officer requests that you blow into the breathalyzer. You are uncertain whether you should do so. Just to get this nightmare over with, you agree to blow into the device. It registers .09 %. The legal limit is .08%. You are subsequently charged with a Class E Felony DWI (Leandra’s Law), another DWI Misdemeanor and a violation under the Vehicle and Traffic Law for an expired inspection sticker. Before you are released, a mug shot and fingerprints are obtained. The officer agrees to release you on your own recognizance (you don’t have to post bail). However, you need to call your spouse to come and retrieve you and your child from the police station.

You live in a relatively small comunity, everyone will know what has transpired before the end of the day. Your wife doesn’t give you an opportunity to explain. She is visibly upset and angry with you. Once you arrive at home, reality finally sets in. Is your job at risk? Are you going to lose your driver’s license? Why were you charged with a felony? Who can I talk? Who can I trust? How do I face my fellow colleagues at school? What will the students think? How much information should I share with the superintendent? Should I even discuss the issue with him?

Unfortunately, there are no right or wrong answers to the questions posed. There is simply not a patented playbook that you can follow as you wander through this unchartered territory. Your first instinct is to make contact with your unit president. Hopefully you can trust him or her to guide you. You should also make every effort to talk directly to your ESSAA Counsel. The ramifications of the arrest may have an immediate impact on your job and your ability to function effectively as an administrator.

Your unit president or ESSAA Counsel will assist you in every facet of the legal problem. In the scenario that was provided, there is no doubt that the arrest will be published in the local newspaper. Likewise, you may want to consider alerting your superintendant. It’s better that he or she hears about the arrest from you rather than being surprised by reading about it in the newspaper. If you elect to share the information with your superintendant, be certain to bring your unit president with you. Your unit president can provide not only moral support but also act as a buffer. It is also advisable to be certain that whatever information is provided is truthful and succinct. Be mindful that any information provided your superintendant is not confidential. Likewise, just provide the basic facts and nothing more.

You should also be prepared to hire an attorney to represent you in the handling the arrest. Most attorneys require a retainer up front. ( the going rate in CNY for a DWI is approximately $1500-$2000). The attorney may recommend that you be evaluated to ascertain that the arrest was an isolated incident and that you do not have problems related to alcohol abuse. Most prosecutors in central and northern New York rely upon the alcohol evaluation as a basis to justify a reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor or a further reduction from a misdemeanor to a violation.

In the hypothetical fact pattern, the administrator was charged with a Felony DWI. The basis for the felony arrest was as a result of “ Leandra’s Law”. Even if it’s a first offense DWI, it’s still charged as a Felony. The aggravating circumstance is obviously driving drunk, but with a minor under the age of 16 years old in the vehicle. If the Felony is ultimately reduced to a misdemeanor, under Leandra’s Law, the defendant not only will have his or her license suspended pending the prosecution, but once the case is resolved, the defendant is ordered to install an ignition locking device that requires the person to provide a breath sample before he can drive the vehicle. It’s an expensive proposition if the defendant owns one or more vehicles. The locking device is required to remain on the vehicle for six months.

Once an appearance in the local court has been scheduled, every attempt is made to either negotiate a plea disposition or resolve the matter by trial. If this was a first offense, and the alcohol evaluation is favorable, most prosecutors would generally agree to reduce the misdemeanor to a violation DWAI. (Driving While Ability Impaired). A car accident, personal injury or other aggravating circumstances may complicate the plea reduction. If a prior DWI (misdemeanor) exists on your record, a reduction could not be obtained. Generally speaking, a DWAI will incur a substantial fine ($500-$750) plus an additional surcharge which is akin to a tax paid to the state. Additionally, driving privileges will most likely be suspended for a period of time, the court may also impose some sort of a drunk driving course and or community service. A plea to a misdemeanor will most likely require a three year term of probation, suspension of driving privileges for at least one year, fine, surcharge and any other conditions the court may impose. Finally, after all the court appearances and court conditions are resolved, you then have to brace yourself for the distinct possibility of finding a new auto insurance carrier. Your insurance costs will triple just to maintain your current policy. If you were charged under “Leandra’s Law, and plead to the reduced violation or misdemeanor, there’s the added expense of the ignition locking device.

Finally and probably the most important question, what impact will the arrest and subsequent plea have on your career as an administrator? The simple answer is hopefully no impact. However in the current economic climate it is worth the effort to examine. I doubt very seriously that a school district would initiate 3020a charges based on an incident that occurred outside the confines of your place of employment. However, a plea disposition may impact your ability to perform your duties. Also, a borderline administrator that is seeking tenure might possibly be denied because of the plea to the alcohol related offense. It’s obviously a slippery slope.

The best advice is to simply avoid the pitfalls of drinking and driving. However, if you ever find yourself in the compromising position, utilize a designated driver.