State Law Would Expand DWI Penalties for Repeat Offenders

The New York State Senate passed a bill in February known as "Tiffany Heitkamp's Law" that would expand the reach of DWI laws affecting those with multiple DWI convictions. The bill allows courts applying laws that punish multiple drunk driving convictions to consider prior convictions involving different vehicle types.

For example, defendants previously convicted of DWI on the road could be subject to a much higher penalty for a second or third intoxicated driving conviction involving an ATV, snowmobile or boat. Currently, the law does not correlate these drinking-related violations for the purposes of increasing penalties.

The bill, sponsored by Senator John DeFranciso, is named after a Syracuse woman who died in 2006 after an intoxicated man crashed a speedboat in which she was a passenger. The man had a record of two DWI convictions, but because the prior convictions involved automobiles, he could only be charged as a first-time offender associated with the boating accident.

Under the proposed law, courts would be required to consider all previous DWIs, BWIs, and SWIs for sentencing purposes. The bill becomes law if the Assembly passes it. In 2011, the Assembly did not reach a vote on the bill passed by the Senate.

Under the new law, punishment for repeat offenders of linked offenses could increase, including higher license revocation fines and more jail time. Second offenses involving intoxicated driving of any vehicle would constitute automatic felonies.

Speedboat, snowmobile, and ATV enthusiasts with prior drinking-related driving violations should be especially careful. Drivers who have avoided driving cars and maintained a clean record could nonetheless face extensive penalties and jail time for intoxicated driving under the proposed law.