Socialite Charged with DWAI

A traffic collision on September 1st led to a charge of Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) on Long Island for the wife of embattled hedge fund billionaire Phil Falcone. Based on the report we read in the New York Post, it must have been quite a scene.

According to witnesses, Lisa Falcone was driving her Mercedes SUV in Bridgehampton after leaving the Hampton Classic Horse Show when she rear-ended a car and then smashed into a parked van. She reportedly pleaded with the owner of the car and the driver of the van not to call the police, allegedly promising that her husband would take care of the damage. But police were called, and were on the scene in time to hear Phil Falcone, who had also arrived, telling his wife not to submit to a breath test. A breath test was eventually administered (Lisa Falcone, according to police, smelled of alcohol), and registered a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) under .08. She also admitted taking prescription drugs for an ankle injury. She was charged with DWAI, and has entered a plea of not guilty. The report in the Falcone case did not indicate whether the DWAI charge involved just alcohol, or alcohol and drugs combined.

What is DWAI – Alcohol?

Unlike many states, New York has a special law designed for those who are slightly less impaired than others. We call it DWAI – Alcohol. It applies only to those whose Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is between .05 and .07. A conviction for a first offense does not even rise to the level of a misdemeanor; rather, it is a traffic infraction. And the penalties are accordingly lighter: A fine of $300 to $500; up to 15 days in jail; and a 90-day license suspension, unless you’re under 21, in which case the minimum suspension period is one year.

As with the case of more serious offenses in this area, prior history plays a large role in the applicable penalties. For a second offense (within five years), while it is still an infraction (and not a misdemeanor or felony), the fines go up ($500-$700); the jail sentence may be longer (up to 30 days); and the minimum suspension time increases to six months. For those under 21 convicted of a second offense, you face loss of your license for the greater of one year or until you reach 21.

For a third “strike” (within 10 years), you are now looking at a misdemeanor charge. Again, this increases the fine ($750-$1,500) and the potential jail sentence (up to six months). The license suspension period, however, remains at a minimum of six months. The suspension period for a third offense for those under 21 also remains at between one year and the time you reach 21, whichever is longer.

DWAI – Drugs (or Drugs and Alcohol Combined)

This brings us out of the realm of traffic infractions and into the area of misdemeanors and possibly felonies. If you are convicted of driving while impaired as the result of drugs (or drugs and alcohol combined), a first offense is a misdemeanor, and the offender faces a fine of $500 to $1,000; up to one year in jail; and a minimum six month license suspension. A second offense within ten years is a Class E felony, and the penalties are significantly higher, both in terms of fines (up to $5,000); jail time (up to four years); and license suspension (minimum one year). A third offense (or a fourth, fifth, etc.), is a Class D felony. The potential in these cases increases for both the fines and the jail sentence. For those under 21, the minimum revocation periods for first, second and third offenders are the same as those applicable to DWAI – Alcohol.

The bottom line, if you drive in New York, is that you can land in trouble even if your BAC is below the DWI threshold of .08. You may think that last drink did not affect you, but it may still lead to a serious charge under the laws of this state. Even if the offense is termed an infraction, the penalties can be life-altering. So if you are charged with DWAI or DWI, turn to a New York DWI lawyer with a proven record of success.

George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 682-0700