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Elements of DWI Offenses

Skilled Defense Lawyers Representing Westchester County Drivers

Most people arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) do not know the legal details of the offense. For some, a first-time DWI is their first experience with New York criminal courts. If you are facing a DWI charge, understanding the elements of the law and seeking guidance from a Westchester County DWI attorney may help you defend against a conviction. At Tilem & Associates, we have the knowledge to answer the questions you may have about a DWI charge or any other criminal offense.

Elements of DWI Offenses in New York

In New York, a driver may be charged with a DWI for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. To establish its case against a defendant, the prosecution must prove every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. While every DWI case will have a unique set of facts and evidence, the elements of a specific offense are the same. There are essentially two elements of DWI offenses that the prosecution must prove in a basic DWI case. The first is that the driver defending the charges operated a motor vehicle in New York on the date alleged. The second is that the defendant was intoxicated, or per se intoxicated, while doing so. These elements are further explained below.

Operating a Motor Vehicle

As an initial matter, the prosecution must show that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle at the time of the alleged offense. Motor vehicle is defined by New York law as any vehicle operated or driven on a public highway, and propelled by a force other than muscular power. For example, motorized scooters are motor vehicles, while bicycles are not. In most DWI cases, the issue of whether a motor vehicle was involved is not challenged. Far more common is the question of whether the defendant was “operating” the motor vehicle.

Under New York DWI laws, operating a motor vehicle means not only driving a moving car, but it also includes other actions. Specifically, a person operates a vehicle when she is behind the wheel for the purpose of putting it into motion, and the engine is running. Many people are surprised to learn that sitting in the driver’s seat of a running car, even while parked, may be considered operating a motor vehicle in a DWI case. It is important to note, however, that the prosecution must establish that the defendant intended to move the vehicle. If the defendant was found sleeping behind the wheel with the car on, it will be difficult to show that she intended to drive it. The prosecution must also prove that the defendant operated the vehicle on a public highway, road, street, alley, public driveway, parking lot, or any other private road open to traffic.

Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

The second element of a DWI offense concerns the driver’s use of alcohol or drugs. Depending on the particular DWI offense, the second element will vary. For a DWI per se offense, the act of driving over the legal limit is sufficient for a conviction. In a DWI per se case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s blood alcohol content was .08 percent or more. The prosecution usually relies on chemical testing, while the defense lawyer may challenge the accuracy or reliability of the results.

For a driving while intoxicated charge, the prosecution must show that the defendant was intoxicated. Intoxication means that the defendant had consumed alcohol to the extent that he was incapable of employing the physical and mental abilities needed to operate a vehicle as a reasonable and prudent driver. The prosecution is not required to establish intoxication with a chemical test, and may rely on witness testimony and evidence of the surrounding facts and circumstances. Field sobriety tests are often used to show that the defendant was intoxicated. Other evidence may include the defendant’s driving, coordination, and speech patterns, the presence of alcohol in the vehicle, or the odor of alcohol.

Discuss Your DWI Case With a Westchester County Defense Attorney

At Tilem & Associates, our Westchester County lawyers understand the nuances of DWI and DWAI-drug cases and can provide trustworthy advice after a drunk or drugged driving arrest. We represent defendants in Bronx, Kings, Nassau, Queens, Suffolk, Rockland, Richmond, and Putnam Counties in a range of criminal and civil cases. To discuss a DWI or drug charge with one of our experienced attorneys, call 877-377-8666 or contact us online and request a free consultation.

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