A conviction in this state for driving while intoxicated – DWI – can dramatically and very negatively change your life. If you are charged with DWI in New York – and if you committed the crime – can you plead guilty to a lesser charge and avoid a DWI conviction?

You must take a DWI charge seriously. If you are charged with DWI anywhere in the state of New York, it’s is imperative to meet with an experienced Westchester County DWI lawyer as quickly as possible to begin planning your defense.

WHY IS PLEADING GUILTY TO DWI NOT A GOOD IDEA?

Do not plead guilty to DWI and do not attempt to act as your own attorney. Too much will be at stake. A guilty plea may look like an expedient way to deal with a DWI charge, but a conviction for driving while intoxicated will negatively impact your life for years to come.

If you are stopped by the police for suspicion of DWI while you’re driving anywhere in New York, be cooperative and pleasant. If you are asked to show your license, registration, and proof of insurance, you should produce them.

You are not required to answer any other questions. Politely say, “I’m choosing to exercise my right to remain silent.” A police officer’s questions are seeking answers that can be used against you.

If you are arrested for driving while intoxicated, you have the right to have your attorney present during any questioning. Politely insist on your rights after a DWI arrest and reach out to a defense attorney as swiftly as possible.

WHAT IS DWAI?

Most New York drivers are acutely aware of the DWI law, but what you may not know about is a lesser charge, “DWAI,” driving while ability impaired. Keep reading, because some DWI defendants in New York can have the DWI charge dropped by pleading guilty instead to DWAI.

A first-time driving while intoxicated offense is typically prosecuted in New York as a misdemeanor. If you’re driving and you’ve exceeded the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent, the charge is DWI.

Most drivers in New York know the rule and make the effort to avoid having more than “just one” drink before getting behind the wheel.

HOW DOES A CONVICTION FOR DWAI DIFFER FROM A DWI CONVICTION?

But even if you only had “just one,” and even if you’re under the legal DWI limit, you might still find yourself facing a DWAI charge. DWAI is considered a traffic infraction rather than a misdemeanor or felony, so a DWAI conviction is not a “criminal” conviction.

Still, the consequences of a DWAI conviction are something you want to avoid. A motorist may be charged with DWAI if his or her BAC level measures from 0.05 percent to 0.07 percent and if the driver was – in a police officer’s estimate – too impaired to drive safely.

A first conviction for DWAI can send you to jail for fifteen days and cost you $500 in fines. But if you are convicted of a first-offense DWI in New York, you can expect a $1,000 fine, a six-month suspension of your driver’s license, and the possibility of a year in jail.

WHEN IS A DWI CHARGE A FELONY?

While a first DWI will usually be charged as a misdemeanor, certain aggravating factors can boost the charge to a felony. If you have a child as a passenger, for example, DWI is a felony, and any second DWI charge within ten years of a prior DWI conviction will be a felony charge.

A DWI conviction also entails extra-legal consequences that you will not face if you are offered a plea agreement and you plead guilty to DWAI.

A DWI conviction will raise your auto insurance costs. If you drive for a living, a DWI conviction may force you to find other work, and a recent criminal conviction can make that difficult.

If you hold a professional license in the state of New York, a DWI conviction will put that license at risk for suspension or revocation.

IF YOU’RE CHARGED WITH DWI, CAN YOU PLEAD GUILTY TO DWAI INSTEAD?

If you are charged with misdemeanor DWI in New York, can you plead guilty instead to DWAI? It depends.

A plea bargain is a binding agreement between a criminal defendant and the state. It is a contract that resolves the criminal charge or charges against a defendant.

A plea bargain may be negotiated even before a suspect is charged or at any time after charges are filed. While a trial can drag on for days, a plea bargain can take just minutes.

New York’s overcrowded courts would grind to a complete halt without plea bargains.

HOW CAN A DWI ATTORNEY HELP YOU?

If you have been accused of DWI in New York, a DWI lawyer who routinely negotiates plea deals will know which offer to accept and which offers to reject.

Of course, if you are innocent of driving while intoxicated, you should not accept a plea offer or any plea agreement.

If you’re innocent, a skilled DWI attorney will fight aggressively to have the charge dismissed. If that’s not possible, your attorney will ask a jury to return a not guilty verdict.

However, because trials can be risky, and juries can be unpredictable, plea agreements often make sense. If you reject a plea deal, and if your case goes to trial, and if you’re convicted, you will probably face a much harsher sentence.

If the state’s case against you is persuasive, let your DWI lawyer negotiate the best possible plea deal on your behalf.

HOW CAN YOU AVOID DWI TROUBLE ENTIRELY?

The final choice to accept or reject a plea deal is the defendant’s alone. Of course, if you are charged with DWI here in New York, you really must take into account your DWI attorney’s recommendations.

Anyone who drives while intoxicated takes an unnecessary, dangerous risk, but you can avoid DWI trouble entirely. How? Don’t drink and drive. If you plan to drink away from home, take Uber or Lyft, call a taxi or a limo, or arrange for a designated driver.

If for any reason you are arrested for DWI, a good New York DWI attorney will protect your rights, guide you through the legal process, and fight for the best possible resolution of your case.

You’ll have to take the first step, exercise your rights, and make the call to an attorney that you can trust. If you’ve been accused of DWI in New York, your future will depend on it.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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