What You Need to Know About Your First DWI

In 2020, New York State Police arrested 676 people for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) during active anti-DWI sobriety checks, according to the New York State Highway Safety Annual Report. If you or a loved one has recently been charged with your first DWI, you probably have many questions about what happens next while navigating the stressful legal situation.

Whether you had a drink or two at dinner or you hit the bar on a night out, you should take a first offense DWI charge seriously.  As a former prosecutor, I know the New York DWI laws and how to fight them as a criminal defense attorney. If you are in Kingston or the Hudson Valley area, including Catskill or Poughkeepsie, and are facing your first DWI charge, I’m prepared to help you understand your rights and advocate for you in court if necessary.

DWI in New York

In New York, there are two tiers of DWI charges:

  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) - This is constituted by Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08 or higher for regular drivers and .04 BAC for commercial motor vehicle drivers.
  • Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated (Aggravated DWI) - An aggravated DWI occurs with a BAC of .18 or higher.

Field Sobriety & Chemical Tests

A police officer may request that you complete a field sobriety test or a chemical test to determine whether you are intoxicated.

You have the right to refuse a field sobriety test without penalty. These tests are widely considered inaccurate, with roughly 30% of completely sober individuals failing the test in ideal conditions, so think before you agree to perform this test.

Constitutionally, you have the right to refuse a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer, but New York will revoke your driver’s license for one year (regardless of whether you were guilty of the DWI) and charge you a $750 fee.

The DWI Process

If you are suspected of a DWI, you will generally go through the following process:

  1. The police officer will investigate to determine whether you are driving while intoxicated. This investigation includes a field sobriety test or a chemical test.
  2. Depending on the initial investigation results, you will be arrested and booked at the local holding site.
  3. You will be held until the arresting officer’s paperwork is complete.
  4. At this time, the local law enforcement agency may set a bail that you must pay before you are released.
  5. Upon release, the arresting officer will provide you with paperwork indicating the date and time of your arraignment, which may be held immediately after your release.
  6. At your initial court hearing, called an arraignment, the judge will read you the charges and your rights before asking if you have an attorney. If you don’t have an attorney, one will be appointed to you.
  7. If your breath test shows a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher, the court will suspend your license while the case is pending. You will not be able to drive home from court.
  8. The judge will ask you for your plea. Your attorney does not need to be physically present for you to enter your plea.
  9. The judge will determine bail (if any), confiscate your driver’s license, and schedule future court proceedings.

Possible Penalties for the First Offense

First offense DWI penalties can vary based on:

  • Age
  • Type of driver’s license
  • Estimated BAC
  • Nature of the impairing substance
  • Consequences of the DWI such as injuries or property damage
  • Presence of any minors in your vehicle at the time of the arrest
  • The skill of your attorney

Generally in New York, you will face the following penalties for a first offense DWI:

  • $500-$1,000 mandatory fine
  • Maximum sentence of one year in jail
  • Revocation of driver’s license for at least six months
  • Requirement that, when you are able to drive, you only drive motor vehicles with an ignition-interlock-device installed, and the requirement that all cars registered to you and at your residence have a device installed in them.

You may also be enrolled in a $750 Driver Responsibility Program and/or a $300 Driving Driver Program, which you must pay for.

Other financial repercussions of a DWI charge include legal fees, property damage, medical expenses, loss of employment or occupational license, and higher insurance rates. Of course, there are non-financial consequences not imposed by the courts, which may include loss of personal relationships, lack of transportation after license suspension, and feelings of guilt, embarrassment, and pain.

Criminal Defense Experience You Can Trust

With so much at stake, you need a criminal defense attorney you can trust. As a first-offense DWI defense attorney, I will use my 15 years of experience in criminal investigations to protect your rights and safeguard your financial future. 

I proudly serve clients in the Hudson Valley area of New York, including Hudson, Catskill, Highland, Poughkeepsie, Saugerties, Kingston, and New Paltz. Contact Melanson Law Office today for a case review.


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