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Syracuse Dem: Make Felony DWI Bail Eligible

Assemblyman William Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, is pictured with SUNY ESF students who visited his office in late March.

Add felony driving while intoxicated to the list of charges state lawmakers may make bail-eligible.

Assemblyman William Magnarelli, D-Syracuse and chair of the Assembly’s Transportation Committee, has introduced legislation (A.9794) to roll back another of the bail reform changes the state made in 2019.

“New York continues to see an epidemic of traffic violations and crashes on our roads. Driving While Intoxicated violations have started to.trend up after decades of progress,” Magnarelli wrote in his legislative justification.

State Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics available through 2022 show decreases in felony DWI and misdemeanor DWI cases both statewide and in Chautauqua County. The state averaged more than 5,000 felony DWI arrests from 2013 through 2019. That number decreased to 3,711 in 2020, increased slightly to 3,924 in 2021 and dipped again to 3,757 in 2022. Misdemeanor DWI charges followed a similar trend, with more than 30,000 total misdemeanor arrests from 2013 through 2018 before a decrease to 28,814 in 2019. The pandemic brought a drastic decrease in misdemeanor DWI cases to 19,009 before increasing again in 2021 and 2022 to 21,569 and 21,624 total cases, respectively.

Chautauqua County follows a similar trend as the statewide statistics. The county averaged more than 70 felony DWI cases from 2013 through 2018. In 2019 felony DWI cases dropped to 58 and remained remarkably steady through 2021 before increasing slightly to 62 in 2022. before 2019. Misdemeanor DWI cases decreased drastically from 2016 to 2017 and haven’t yet rebounded to pre-2016 levels.

New statewide numbers for 2023 are expected to be released soon. During a legislative hearing in September, State Police officials testified that alcohol-related crashes have increased 30% over the past several years even as DWI charges have decreased.

“These are defendants who continue to be a danger to themselves and others on the roads,” Magnarelli wrote. “The current bail law does not include felony DWI on the list of eligible offenses. This means judges must release them pending trial, whether or not they are at risk of offending again before trial. This legislation adds the felony DWI offenses to the bail eligible list to give judges discretion on whether to set bail for these defendants.”

In addition to Magnarelli’s legislation, bills have been introduced in prior legislative sessions to lower the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration from .08% to .05%. In 2019, Utah lowered its threshold to .05 BAC and saw its drunk driving deaths reduced by nearly 20 percent while rates around the rest of the nation increased. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association recommends every state lower their BAC to .05 as each year nearly 10,000 people are killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers, and nearly 173,000 are injured. Other states, including Washington and Hawaii are also preparing legislation to lower the legal BAC to .05.

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