Leandra’s Law Means Increased Penalties for New York DWI Convictions

New Yorkers charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) by alcohol or drugs face tough penalties. Those charged with DWI while a child under the age of 16 is in the car face even more serious consequences pursuant to the New York Child Passenger Protection Act, better known as "Leandra's Law."

What Is Leandra's Law?

Leandra's Law allows the government to seek additional penalties for those who are charged with DWI while transporting children. The law is named after an eleven-year-old girl - Leandra Rosado - who was killed when the vehicle she was riding in crashed in October of 2009. The driver of that vehicle was under the influence at the time and was charged with DWI manslaughter.

How Does Leandra's Law Change DWI Charges?

The bill was championed by Leandra's father, Lenny Rosado, who fought to have the law enacted to ensure that people committing DWI in New York would face significant enough penalties that they would not want to act in a similar manner in the future. The law calls for some very tough punishment for those driving drunk in the presence of children under the age of 16. Leandra's Law makes it a felony to drive drunk while transporting a child, regardless of the driver's level of legal intoxication. For example, a driver whose blood alcohol level is .08 might only be facing a misdemeanor DWI charge. If that same driver has children in the vehicle at the time of the offense, the charges will be felony-level instead of misdemeanor.

Leandra's Law also institutes provisions that result in aggravated consequences for a parent or guardian who is convicted of DWI while transporting a child that is in their care. Parents, custodians and guardians charged with DWI where their children (or wards) are present not only face the criminal penalties, but are also reported to the state's Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.

Another important consequence brought about with the passage of Leandra's Law is more controversial. The law technically requires anyone convicted of DWI with a minor child in the car install and maintain an ignition interlock system for at least six months following the conviction. Ignition interlock systems prevent cars from starting unless and until the driver passes a breath-based alcohol screening. New York has since rolled the ignition interlock provision out to encompass all first-time DUI offenders.

There is a loophole in Leandra's Law, however, that some say allows drivers to skirt the interlock requirement. Critics say that there are two distinct ways in which the interlock requirement is being avoided:

  • Transfer registration of the vehicle to a friend or family member
  • Avoid driving for the six months following a DWI conviction

Leandra's father Lenny, who originally fought to have Leandra's Law passed following her death, is lobbying for New York legislators to pass a stopgap provision that would no longer allow those convicted of DWI to avoid the installation of an ignition interlock system. A proposed bill that circulated through the legislature earlier this year has been held up in the New York Assembly Transportation Committee until the next legislative session.

There is no doubt that Leandra's Law brings more severe consequences to those facing DWI charges where children were present. The penalties associated with a simple New York DWI are serious enough, but the aggravated circumstances where a child is involved can result in a felony conviction and a designation as a child abuser that has the potential for lifelong consequences. If you or a loved one is facing a DWI charge under Leandra's Law, seek the advice of a skilled criminal defense attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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