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License restrictions for repeat offenders

New York's drunk driving laws impose harsh penalties for a first offense, but they get much harsher if the driver offends again. A repeat offense doesn't mean just another offense within a year or two; the time period covered can be 25 years or even more.

In New York, the penalties for drunk driving offenses come not only through the criminal justice system, but also through the administrative process overseen by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV's Drinking Driver Program has a series of regulations designed to keep repeat offenders off the road. These make it much harder for a person whose license has been revoked to get a new license, even after they have served any sentence or paid any fines.

Obviously, the harsh laws and regulations are meant to keep people safe from drivers who are dangerous. Certainly, it makes sense to put some restrictions on drivers who have addiction issues and cannot be trusted to stay away from driving when they are intoxicated. However, the regulations can lead to some results that are arguably unfair.

For example, imagine Gary has had his license revoked after he was convicted of a serious traffic offense, such as a fatal accident. He was not drunk at the time of the accident. In fact, he hasn't had a drink in 15 years, after he realized he had a drinking problem and decided he had to turn his life around. However, when he applies for a new license, the DMV finds that he has had three or four convictions within the past 25 years. All of them were more than 15 years earlier, when Gary was in the throes of his alcoholism. Under the Drinking Driver Program regulations, Gary cannot get a new license for two years. Two years later, he will be eligible only for a license with problem driver restrictions that limit where he can drive.

This is arguably unfair. The regulations are meant to protect the public from drunk drivers, but Gary hasn't had a drink in 15 years.

Everyone accused of a crime deserves a defense. Defending against drunk driving charges means not just working against the criminal charges, but also having a strategy for dealing with the DMV.

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