In the wake of the tragic death of a Queens boy struck by an alleged drunk driver, New York Gov. George Pataki has called on the Assembly leadership to take immediate action to pass his comprehensive five-point plan to target deadly drivers and make New York’s streets and roadways safer. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the Governor’s proposal last spring, but the legislation died in the Assembly.
The Governor also called upon the Assembly leadership to address a series of other important criminal justice legislation, many of which have already been repeatedly passed by the Senate.
“How many more lives have to be lost and how many more tragedies have to take place before the Assembly leadership decides to get tough on dangerous drivers,” the Governor said. “Time and again the Assembly leadership ignores the will of New Yorkers by refusing to act on sensible, life-saving reforms that have broad bi-partisan support. We owe it to New York’s families to do everything possible to ensure their safety.”
“This weekend’s tragedy in New York City reminds us of the numerous senseless tragedies that have occurred across this state. The Assembly leadership can not turn their backs on the innocent people who have been seriously injured or killed by drunk drivers and simply allow these deadly drivers to escape justice. I urge the Assembly leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote because I am confident that it will pass with an overwhelming majority,” the Governor added.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said, “New York’s laws must be changed to target dangerous drivers who flagrantly disobey traffic rules and cause crashes that claim innocent lives. Killer motorists shouldn’t be able to drive through legal loopholes to escape strong punishment and evade justice. The Senate passed the Governor’s dangerous driver legislative package in March, the Assembly must act on these bills before more innocent people are killed.”
Tragically, just in the last week, an 11-year-old was struck and killed, and another boy was critically injured by an alleged drunk driver in Queens.
Under the current law, this driver can face no stiffer penalty than a misdemeanor. If the Governor’s proposal were law today, the driver could be charged under the amended crime of Vehicular Assault 2 or Vehicular Manslaughter 2 and would be facing a Class D or C Felony, which carry maximum sentences of 2 1/3 – 7 and 5-15 years in prison respectively. Additionally, in a situation like this, where there is more than one victim, the driver could be sentenced to consecutive sentences as opposed to concurrent.
Senator Nick Spano said, “One of the most important purposes of government is to protect its citizenry. The Governor’s 5-point plan directly addresses the ongoing problem of dangerous drivers and, in doing so, protects the residents of our State as well as others using our streets and roadways.
“This spring, by passing the Governor’s proposal, the State Senate not only recognized just how serious the dangerous driver situation had become, but also the need to address it through a multifaceted approach. The Governor’s 5-point proposal does just that; I urge the State Assembly to take up this issue and pass it during this Legislative session.”
Senator Patricia McGee added, “The necessary reforms of Vehicular Assault and manslaughter will help to deter and punish negligent drivers who injure or kill innocent people as a result of dangerous and unlawful driving. Those who violate the rules of the road while evading law enforcement and cause serious physical injury or death will be subject to swift prosecution of these new proposed penalties.”
The Governor’s plan would give prosecutors the tools they need to penalize drunk and dangerous drivers who kill or cause serious injury, increase criminal penalties for those convicted of killing or seriously injuring another using a vehicle, as well as toughen penalties for hit and run drivers and unlicensed drivers, among other proposals.
There have reportedly been numerous other cases of fatal crashes caused by dangerous drivers. Just last spring, Angel Gimenez, a 6 year-old boy, was struck down by a hit-and-run driver in Elmhurst, Queens.
In January 2004, Peter Hornbeck, a 26-year old aspiring teacher, was killed in a hit-and-run crash on Park Avenue in Manhattan. After killing Hornbeck, the driver reportedly boarded a bus to Atlantic City and went to a casino. He was eventually captured. However, under current law, the driver, who had a suspended license, could only be charged with leaving the scene of fatal accident, which is an E felony – the lowest level felony – and carries only a maximum penalty of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.
Highlights of the Governor’s five-point plan include:
1. ELIMINATE PROOF OF CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE FOR DEADLY DRIVERS
Current law fails to adequately address the significant problem of drivers who flagrantly violate the Vehicle and Traffic Law’s “rules of the road,” by speeding, refusing to obey traffic signals, or by committing other “moving” violations, even if the result is the tragedy of pedestrian death or injury. Prosecutors must prove criminal negligence in such cases where the driver seriously injures or killed innocent bystanders.
This legislation would remove the proof of criminal negligence requirement in such cases where: i) the driver’s license was suspended or revoked; ii) the driver had violated the Vehicle and Traffic Law and had two or more prior Vehicle and Traffic Law violations in the last 18 months; iii) the driver was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol; iv) the driver was fleeing a police officer; and v) the driver is a repeat offender who commits any level of Vehicular Assault or Vehicular Manslaughter and has previously been convicted of such crimes.
2. INCREASE PENALTIES FOR DRIVERS WHO CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH
The legislation proposes providing consecutive sentences when a driver kills or seriously injures multiple victims. Current law does not provide for more severe punishment for a driver who kills or seriously injures more than one victim.
The Governor’s plan also calls for raising the offense level of crimes in which a driver kills or seriously injures another person to reflect the seriousness of the crime. For example, a deadly driver could face a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison upon conviction of Vehicular Manslaughter in the first degree.
3. INCREASE PENALTIES FOR DEADLY HIT-AND-RUN DRIVERS
Drivers who flee the scene after a deadly crash should be punished appropriately for this type of reprehensible and dangerous behavior. There have been reported incidents where an intoxicated driver fled the scene of a collision so as to avoid a breathalyzer test. Existing law punishes drivers who flee the scene of a deadly accident by license suspension or revocation only upon conviction – and the crime carries a penalty of only an E felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison.
The bill would enhance the penalty for fleeing the scene of a deadly collision to a class D felony, which carries a sentence of up to 7 years in prison. The driver’s license would also be automatically suspended when an individual is charged with leaving the scene of an accident that results in serious physical injury or death.
4. CRACK DOWN ON UNLICENSED DRIVERS
The Governor’s legislation proposes a crack down on aggravated unlicensed drivers by increasing the penalties for drivers without a license, closing a loophole in existing law that allow drivers who never had a license or who have had their license suspended many times, to avoid punishment, as well as require fingerprinting of those charged with unlicensed driving.
Reports from law enforcement officials indicate that a large number of drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked falsify DMV records so as to avoid penalties and attempt to obtain a new license under another name. Under current law, such drivers may escape detection because these individuals are not fingerprinted. By allowing for fingerprinting of such individuals and by punishing all unlicensed drivers more severely, unlawful driving would be substantially deterred and sufficiently punished.
5. REVOKE LICENSES OF DRIVERS WHO KILL OR INJURE OTHERS
The bill also calls for mandatory license revocation for drivers who violate the Vehicle and Traffic Law, thereby killing or seriously injuring another person. Under existing law, the revocation is discretionary and does not include accidents that result in serious physical injury.
The legislation would also require such drivers to successfully complete a DMV-approved accident prevention course prior to issuance of a new license.
Earlier this year, Gov. Pataki proposed other measures that would reportedly make New York’s roadways safer.
The Governor called for passage of the Pena-Herrera DWI Omnibus Bill that includes tougher penalties for aggravated DWI and tougher penalties for driving while ability impaired by drugs or alcohol.
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