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Don’t Press Your Luck This St. Patrick’s Day—What You Need to Know About NYS’s DWI/DUI Laws

In an effort to combat drunk and impaired driving, New York State police and local law enforcement are anticipated to increase patrols this St. Patrick’s Day. Drivers should expect to see an increased presence of DWI patrols and sobriety checkpoints during St. Patrick’s Day weekend this year, March 15 through March 17.

While this should be no surprise to many New Yorkers who choose to celebrate their Irish roots—or who are looking for a convenient excuse to indulge in salty meats and smooth stouts—New York continues to see staggering numbers of arrests and tickets during this time of year (which is only expected to increase as the holiday falls on a Sunday in 2024). In 2022, New York troopers arrested 381 individuals for DWI, issued around 750 tickets for distracted driving, and totaled just under 26,600 tickets issued on St. Patrick’s Day.

As such, it is crucial that, before you leave for your St. Patrick’s Day plans, you are aware of what your rights are behind the wheel. Knowing should, when, and whether you are required to comply with an officer’s request will not only help you avoid traffic violations but also prevent you from putting yourself in a negative legal situation.

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How to Avoid Getting Tapped—What Are Law Enforcement Looking for This St. Patrick’s Day Weekend?

The first thing every driver needs to understand about law enforcement is that they should not pull you over randomly to take a field sobriety test. As with all traffic stops, you have to commit a traffic infraction for a police officer to pull you over. Simple things like speeding or swerving in and out of lanes give law enforcement the go-ahead to pull you over and potentially catch you driving under the influence.

Law enforcement may also stop you if they believe you are operating a motor vehicle while distracted. When being pulled over for distracted driving, there are two main charges: driving while using a mobile telephone and operating a motor vehicle while using a portable electronic device. These two charges encompass any sort of electronic device that could distract your focus from the road, even if you are talking with the phone on your lap or punching something into a portable GPS.

However, there are easy ways to prevent this. If you are choosing to talk on the phone, consider using Bluetooth and investing in a phone holster for your device. If your device is secured to the car, you will not be pulled over for using such a device. This all being said, the best strategy is to avoid getting distracted in the first place, so consider double-checking your plans and route before heading out or handing your phone to your copilot to manage this St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

A Sobering Encounter—What You Need to Know if You Get Pulled Over by Law Enforcement

Along with needing a reason to pull you over, any police officer will need probable cause to conduct a field sobriety test. Typically, the presence or scent of alcohol or other drugs will prompt them to do so.

If they are still convinced after conducting the test, they could give you a preliminary breath test (PBT) if they are still sure that you are intoxicated. While this isn’t the breathalyzer test they will use against you in court, this test, along with others, is the officer’s way of trying to establish probable cause to make a DWI arrest.

You are under no obligation to take part in these tests at any time. Additionally, you are not obligated to communicate with police authorities at any time without your lawyer present. That being said, complying with the officers will help you more often than not in court. If you have not done anything wrong and you comply with the officer’s instructions, the burden ultimately rests with the prosecution in court to prove that you were in fact driving under the influence.

Refusing to take a chemical test may lead to an adverse inference being made against you in court. You can still be charged with Driving While Intoxicated without a certified chemical test showing your blood alcohol content (BAC). This is normally referred to as a “common law” DWI, a violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1192-3. The decision of whether or not to take a test will depend in great part on how much you have had to drink over a period of time. Any driver faced with this decision would be well served by contacting an attorney at this crucial moment.

Along with not being legally required to perform certain field sobriety tests, the police are also not allowed to search your car without a search warrant. This, however, can be circumvented if items such as drugs or firearms are in plain view or if the officer claims he or she detects an odor of alcohol or an illicit substance. If there are items such as these lying in plain view of the law enforcement officer, they can search through your car, potentially finding other illegal items.

Total Buzzkill—Possible Consequences Associated With a DWI/DUI

At the end of the day, driving while intoxicated is a crime, and New York, in particular, has no qualms about playing it safe in order to protect those on the road. Motorists should be aware that a DWI charge can lead to a misdemeanor or felony conviction and a subsequent criminal record.

There are many different alcohol- and drug-related violations in New York State, including:

  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
  • Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated (Aggravated DWI)
  • Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (DWAI/Alcohol)
  • Driving While Ability Impacted by a Single Drug other than Alcohol (DWAI/Drug)
  • Driving While Ability Impaired by a Combined Influence of Drugs or Alcohol (DWAI/Combination)
  • Chemical Test Refusal
  • Zero Tolerance Law 

The penalties for these violations can include the loss/suspension of a license, fines, and even possible jail time. For more information about the specific penalties associated with each violation, consider checking out the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles website here.

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Staying Safe This St. Patrick’s Day

Regardless of your tolerance, driving after drinking can make you more prone to dangerous and risky decisions behind the wheel. For that reason, it is important that you have plans in place to coordinate rides and stay out of the driver’s seat this St. Patrick’s Day if you are choosing to drink this year. Remember, never get in the car with someone who has been drinking. If you are planning to drink, you should leave the car at home and use ride services, designated drivers, or any other plan that involves a non-drinking driver. Waiting to make the decision after you have had a number of drinks increases the chances that the decision you make will be wrong.

Even if you aren’t planning on driving this St. Patrick’s Day, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on New York’s DWI/DWAI laws, as knowing your rights and how to interact with law enforcement can be the difference between getting arrested and maintaining your innocence.

Peter is a Managing Partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, where he practices criminal defense. With over 30 years of criminal defense experience, Peter has handled thousands of criminal cases, including violations, misdemeanors, felonies, and appeals. He has primarily represented defendants in felony cases in both state and federal courts. He can be reached at or at 8885294543.

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