What does New York’s Zero Tolerance DWI law really mean?

There’s a law related to operating a vehicle while impaired on the books in New York called the “Zero Tolerance” Law. The title is something of a misnomer, however, because its provisions don’t really set the floor at zero. That can make for some confusion.

The law has been in effect since November 1996 and its intent is to provide individuals who are under the age of 21 and facing charges of driving drunk the possibility of having the matter handled through an administrative hearing rather than the normal courts. 

This has proven to be a boon for many college students who, as minors, have found themselves brought up on drunk driving charges. That’s because the process holds out the possibility that the infraction will eventually be erased and that a bright future won’t be derailed because of a one-time lapse in judgment. It does not mean, though, that there aren’t severe penalties for a conviction.

What the law stipulates is that if someone under the age of 21 is stopped for possible drunk driving and their blood alcohol content level is somewhere between 0.02 percent and 0.07 percent, they may seek to have the case transferred to an administrative law judge. But the request needs the OK of the local prosecutor and the criminal court judge.

As a visit to the state’s official SafeNY website will confirm, if a minor is stopped by police and impaired driving is suspected, police have authority to detain the person to determine their BAC, usually by a breath test. If a person refuses the test, his or her license will be revoked for at least a year. The charges can be stepped up depending on what the BAC tests reveal, and the penalties that can be suffered increase, as well.

The thing to remember is that the Zero Tolerance law process, for all its good intent, is complicated and can result in tough penalties that are worth avoiding. Contacting an attorney is always advised for the sake of protecting your rights.

Source: SafeNY.ny.gov, “Legislation Affects Drivers Under 21 Years of Age,” accessed July 18, 2014

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Glenn R. Bruno, Esq.

New York Defense Lawyer
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