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Defendant Claims Rights to Due Process Violated in DWI case

The defendant was indicted for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 (2) and (3), and vehicular assault in the second degree, in violation of Penal Law § 120.03 (1). A New York Criminal Lawyer said that, in his pretrial omnibus motion, the defendant moved, inter alia, to suppress the results of a blood alcohol test, which the trial court granted to the extent of conducting a joint Dunaway/Huntley hearing.

A New York DWI Lawyer said that, at that hearing, the People adduced the following evidence. On July 28, 2006, at approximately 4:00 A.M., in the City of Poughkeepsie, the defendant drove a pickup truck through a red traffic light and struck a marked patrol car driven by a city police officer. The Officer who was removed from the scene by ambulance and transported to St. Francis Hospital, suffered head injuries and spent one month in an in-patient rehabilitation facility before returning to work six months after the accident, in January 2007. Immediately after the accident, the Patrol Officer observed the defendant, who was still seated in the driver seat of his pickup truck, detected alcohol on his breath, and saw that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. The defendant told the Patrol Officer that he had consumed one half of a beer and was on his way to a bar when the accident occurred. Because the defendant complained of possible head injuries, no field sobriety test was conducted. The Patrol Officer could not determine at that time whether the defendant was intoxicated. When the ambulance arrived, the defendant exited the truck without assistance and was transported by ambulance to Vassar Brothers Hospital.

A New York DWI Lawyer said the County Deputy Sheriff arrived at the hospital, where the Patrol Officer briefed him on the circumstances of the accident, his observations of the defendant at the scene, and the defendant’s statement to him at the scene that he had consumed one half of a beer earlier that night. Approximately 20 minutes later, at 5:04 A.M., the Deputy Sheriff administered a prescreening test called an Alco-Sensor, which indicated the presence of alcohol in the defendant’s system. Based upon his observations, training, and experience, the Deputy Sheriff was by then of the opinion that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol. At approximately 6:01 A.M., the Deputy Sheriff placed the defendant under arrest and read him his (DWI) driving while intoxicated warnings, which the defendant indicated he understood.

A Nassau County DWI Lawyer said that, the defendant immediately indicated he would consent to a chemical test, which requires a blood draw, and signed a consent form at 6:04 A.M. At that point, which was approximately two hours after the accident and within minutes of his arrest, the defendant’s blood was drawn by a hospital nurse and his blood alcohol content was later determined to be .18%, which is more than twice the legal limit. More than one hour later, the Deputy Sheriff advised the defendant of his Miranda rights, and the defendant, both in writing and orally, indicated he understood those rights and agreed to speak with the Deputy. In response to Deputy Sheriff’s inquiry, the defendant stated that he had consumed a mixed alcoholic drink known as a Long Island iced tea approximately four hours before the accident, and was on his way to a bar when the accident occurred.

The defendant was the sole witness for the defense at the hearing. In his testimony, the defendant stated that he was not advised of his Miranda rights or DWI warnings until a judge, accompanied by police officers and state troopers, arraigned him in his hospital room between 8:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M. The defendant asserted that it was only at that time that he realized he was under arrest. The defendant further testified that, at the time he signed the consent form for his blood to be drawn, he believed his blood needed to be drawn as part of his medical care, not as part of the criminal investigation.

A New York DWI Lawyer said that, at the conclusion of the hearing, the court denied that branch of the defendant’s omnibus motion which was to suppress the results of the blood alcohol content test, finding that the Deputy Sheriff had probable cause to arrest the defendant for driving while intoxicated based on information the Patrol Officer relayed to him, his own observations, and the results of the Alco-Sensor test he had administered to the defendant.

The issue in this case is whether the rebuttable presumption under Penal Law § 120.03 (1) violates the defendant’s right to due process.

Penal Law § 120.03 (1) provides that a person is guilty of vehicular assault in the second degree when he or she causes serious physical injury to another person, inter alia, while operating a motor vehicle while impaired or intoxicated and causes that serious physical injury as a result of such intoxication. The statute also provides that proof of such operation and the causation of such serious physical injury raises a rebuttable presumption that the serious injury is the result of such intoxication.

The Court said that, among other arguments, the defendant contends that Penal Law § 120.03 violates the right to due process because of the rebuttable presumption that a person who commits DWI caused the subject accident resulting in serious physical injuries. He further contends that the statute is unconstitutionally vague since it fails to give fair notice to a person of ordinary intelligence of what it forbids and fails to provide clear law-enforcement standards. For the reasons set forth below, we reject the defendant’s arguments.

Preliminarily, although the defendant failed to preserve for appellate review his constitutional challenges to Penal Law § 120.30 by not making a timely pretrial written motion to dismiss the indictment on this ground, we reach this issue as a matter of discretion in the interest of justice.

“It is a fundamental requirement of due process that a criminal statute must be stated in terms which are reasonably definite so that a person of ordinary intelligence will know what the law prohibits or commands”. The purpose of the requirement is twofold: (1) provide the defendant with “adequate warning of what the law requires so that he may act lawfully,” and (2) “prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement by requiring boundaries sufficiently distinct for police, Judges and juries to fairly administer the law”

In 2005, approximately one year before the subject accident, the statutes concerning vehicular assault in the first and second degrees and vehicular manslaughter in the first and second degrees were amended and designated as “Vasean’s law,” to eliminate criminal negligence as a required element of each of the crimes, and provided that after the People establish that the defendant driver caused serious injury or death, a rebuttable presumption would arise that the serious injury or death was caused by the driver’s intoxication, impairment, or use of a drug.

Specifically, as amended, Penal Law § 120.03 provides: “A person is guilty of vehicular assault in the second degree when he or she causes serious physical injury to another person, and operates a motor vehicle in violation of subdivision two, three, four or four-a of section eleven hundred ninety-two of the vehicle and traffic law and as a result of such intoxication or impairment by the use of a drug, or by the combined influence of drugs or of alcohol and any drug or drugs, operates such motor vehicle in a manner that causes such serious physical injury to such other person.

“If it is established that the person operating such motor vehicle caused such serious physical injury while unlawfully intoxicated or impaired by the use of alcohol or a drug, then there shall be a rebuttable presumption that, as a result of such intoxication or impairment by the use of alcohol or a drug, or by the combined influence of drugs or of alcohol and any drug or drugs, such person operated the motor vehicle in a manner that caused such serious physical injury, as required by this section.”

The defendant contends that the clause “as a result of such intoxication or impairment,” coupled with the rebuttable presumption that the DWI caused the serious physical injuries, renders the statute unconstitutionally vague because an individual who was DWI without causing the subject accident nevertheless falls within the parameters of the statute. The defendant notes that although the person in hypothetical may have been DWI in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192, he or she was innocent of causing the accident. Yet, under the statute, a rebuttable presumption would exist that the person who was driving while intoxicated committed vehicular assault in the second degree in violation of Penal Law § 120.03 (1).

However, our reading of the statute does not support the defendant’s argument. The statute provides, in pertinent part, that the rebuttable presumption that the defendant’s intoxication caused the subject accident arises only “if it is established that the person operating such motor vehicle caused such serious physical injury while unlawfully intoxicated or impaired by the use of alcohol or a drug.” Thus, if a driver’s operation of a vehicle cannot be deemed a proximate cause of the subject accident, then the rebuttable presumption would not arise. We further note that, even if the defendant is correct that the statute would deny due process to hypothetical defendants who may have been DWI in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 but did not cause the accident, we do not reach that issue, as the defendant may not assert a due process challenge contending that the statute is vague as applied to the conduct of others.

In any event, the People’s evidence at trial clearly was sufficient to give rise to the rebuttable presumption. The defendant told the Deputy Sheriff that he had consumed a mixed alcoholic drink prior to the accident. Further, approximately two hours after the accident, the defendant’s BAC tested at .18%, more than twice the legal limit. Accordingly, the People proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was per se driving while intoxicated in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 (2) and driving while intoxicated in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 (3). Additionally, two eyewitnesses, and her passenger, testified that the defendant had a red light as he approached the subject intersection. Neither eyewitness indicated that the defendant slowed down as he approached the intersection. Further, an electrician responsible for maintaining the City’s street and traffic lighting, testified that the traffic signals at the subject intersection were fully operational and the system did not indicate any failure alarms, which are automatically generated if two green or two yellow traffic lights simultaneously appeared on both Mill and North Bridge Streets, or if there had been a power dip.. Under the circumstances, the People established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant operated a vehicle while intoxicated and that his operation of such vehicle caused serious physical injury to another person.

Accordingly, a rebuttable presumption arose that the defendant’s intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident. The verdict demonstrates that the jury rejected the defendant’s testimony that he had a yellow traffic light as he entered the intersection and credited the testimony of the Patrol Officer and her passenger. Had the jury accepted such testimony, given the electrician’s testimony that there were no malfunctions of the traffic lights at the intersection; it would have meant that the jury found that the Officer disregarded a red traffic light, thereby rebutting the presumption since the Officer conduct would be deemed an intervening cause of the accident.

Accordingly, the Court held that the judgment is affirmed.

Penal Law § 120.03 (1) provides that proof of operation and the causation of serious physical injury raises a rebuttable presumption that the serious injury is the result of such intoxication. In order to rebut the presumption you will need the representation of a New York Criminal Attorney and New York DWI Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates. Call us for more information.

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