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New York Supreme Court Hears Double Jeopardy Argument in DUI Case


In separate incidents, two men were arrested for driving while intoxicated and other various violations of the Traffic Law. As a result of the filing of the charges for driving while intoxicated, the driver’s licenses of both these men were suspended automatically. After arraignment and during pre-trial, both men raised the same issue: they both contended that the prosecution of the charges for driving while intoxicated will be a violation of their constitutional right against double jeopardy as they had already been penalized for the same charges when their licenses were suspended. Both men filed motions for the dismissal of the criminal indictments against them.

The Supreme Court decided to hear and decide these two motions jointly and decided to deny the motions to dismiss.

The Court opined that the government is not prohibited from providing a criminal and civil sanction against the same act and this does not violate the right against double jeopardy. The civil sanctions imposed on those charged with driving while intoxicated such as the suspension of the driver’s licenses of the accused are not considered as punishment because the purpose is remedial and not punitive. The only sanctions that will be treated as punishment for a criminal act are those sanctions which have for their purpose the deterrence of crime or retribution for the crime.

The Court opined that the suspension of driver’s licenses is remedial because they do not cause the imprisonment of the accused or the payment of a fine. The only purposes of the suspension is to promote the safety on the highways by removing suspected drunk drivers from the road before trial is had that will determine once and for all if they were truly driving while drunk. Studies have shown that in states where there is an automatic suspension of driver’s licenses after an arrest for driving while intoxicated, there has been a significant reduction in the number of alcohol-related deaths. More importantly, the suspension of the driver’s license is not permanent. It lasts for thirty days only.


The Court also noted that when the accused pleads guilty to a charge for driving while intoxicated, the suspension is lifted and the accused who has pleaded guilty is registered for a rehabilitation program. Successful attendance in the rehabilitation program, the payment of a fine and a surcharge does not automatically reinstate the license. The suspended license remains suspended and a conditional driver’s license is issued. In the case of those accused who proceed to trial while maintaining their innocence, their driver’s licenses are suspended only for a limited time.

The Court sympathized with the accused whose licenses are suspending pending their prosecution. But the Court also stated that while the accused feel that they are being punished, the punitive nature of the suspension does not depend on their feelings. Even remedial sanctions carry the sting of punishment. The only recourse is not to drive while intoxicated.

The states who have imposed similar suspensions of driver’s licenses pending prosecution have all consistently ruled that the suspensions are civil sanctions that have for their objective the remedying of a problem of drunk drivers out on the streets. The Supreme Courts of these states have all upheld that it is the right of the government to remedy this situation and the remedy of suspension does not violate the Constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.

The choice to plead guilty or to maintain innocence to a criminal charge for driving while intoxicated cannot be lightly made.

A NY DWI lawyer can help you decide what is best for you. A New York DWI attorney can give you advice regarding the implications of a plea of guilty to a DWI charge. He can show you the other civil sanctions that accompany a conviction for DWI. At Stephen Bilkis and Associates, New York DWI lawyers are ready to assist you to make an informed choice. Confer with any of the NY DWI lawyers at Stephen Bilkis and Associates today.

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