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Seat switching attempt results in DWI charges for driver, passenger

The DUI laws here in the state of New York can be extremely unforgiving when it comes to driving privileges. To illustrate, first-time offenders face not only steep fines, but also driver's license suspension and even the installation of an ignition interlock device.

As it turns out, they can be equally unforgiving if a passenger changes places with an intoxicated driver, a fact that one couple in eastern New York recently discovered firsthand.

According to reports, a couple driving in a car with three children -- ages five, seven and eleven -- rear-ended another car in Clarence, New York, this past Monday night. Fortunately, no one was injured in the crash, but eyewitnesses to the collision did notice that the man behind the wheel of the at-fault car switched places with his female passenger prior to the arrival of the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

These eyewitnesses alerted the law enforcement officials of this development soon after their arrival, and the couple, identified as Leiland J. and Larue J., were confronted by law enforcement.

"Upon interviewing both folks, there was an admission between the husband and wife that they did switch drivers, after the accident," said Captain Sean Simet.

Both Leiland J. and Larue J. were ultimately arrested for drunk driving after the responding officers determined that they were intoxicated.

While you may not be surprised as to why Leiland J. was charged with DWI -- after all, he was driving the car at the time of the collision -- you may wonder why/how Larue J. could be charged with DWI if she never actually operated the car.

"In New York State, once you're behind the wheel, you have the keys to the vehicle. You're showing intent to operate the vehicle," said Simet. "If you're intoxicated at that time, that's grounds for an arrest for driving while intoxicated."

Accordingly, if Larue J. had never switched places with Leiland J., she likely would not be facing any drunk driving charges.

Compounding the couple's problems is the fact that they were both charged with three felony counts of violating Leandra's Law -- one for each child in the car.

For those unfamiliar with Leandra's Law, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services defines it as a "special child endangerment law that impose[s] tougher sanctions on individuals who place a child passenger at risk while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

Stay tuned for more from our New York traffic law blog ...

A DWI/DUI arrest can have a serious impact on your life in a number of ways and result in various penalties. In fact, many of these penalties are much more serious than the mere license suspension or revocation.

When faced with this scenario, consider contacting an attorney who understands New York's confusing legal system, and who can help you evaluate your options and make the right decisions.

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Sources:

WIVB-4, "Switching seats leads to 2 DWI charges" Dec. 6, 2011

New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, "Child Passenger Protection Act/Ignition Interlock Provision Fact Sheet" July 2010

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