The New York City Department of Probation (NYC Probation) failed to properly supervise thousands of New Yorkers convicted of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), allowing them to evade the provisions of “Leandra’s Law” that require them to install Ignition Interlock Devices (IID) in their vehicles, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“Ignition interlocks won’t protect New Yorkers if DWI offenders can drive without installing the devices,” DiNapoli said. “My auditors found convicted drunk drivers routinely violated the terms of their sentences and did not install ignition interlocks without penalties or punishment. While efforts were made to strengthen Leandra’s Law, it is still too easy to circumvent the law. City officials must work harder to keep DWI offenders from harming others and prevent more senseless accidents and tragedies, but clearly there is work to be done statewide.”
In New York state, a person convicted of DWI is subject to a range of sanctions, including license suspension or revocation, fines, and possible jail time. In New York City, persons convicted of a DWI are monitored by either the Queens District Attorney’s Office or NYC Probation. This audit examined those under the supervision of NYC Probation.
Under the Child Passenger Protection Act, also known as Leandra’s Law, those sentenced for a DWI on or after Aug. 15, 2010, must install an IID in any vehicle they own or operate, and the Department of Motor Vehicles adds an “ignition interlock restriction” to their license. The IID connects to the vehicle’s ignition system and prevents the car or truck from starting if the operator’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds the allowable level preset into the IID (.025). The IID will also notify the IID manufacturer, who in turn notifies the Probation Department of the violation. The law is named after Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old who was killed when the vehicle she was riding in, being driven by the intoxicated mother of one of her friends, crashed in Manhattan.
After efforts to strengthen the law, as of November 2013, offenders who claim they no longer own a vehicle must state under oath that they will not operate a vehicle without an IID during the period of restriction.
Auditors found that the Probation department doesn’t always check with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see whether DWI offenders even have any vehicles registered in their names.
For the period August 15, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2014, the courts ordered the installation of 2,166 IIDs for offenders under NYC Probations’ supervision. DiNapoli’s auditors found that of those, only 111 IIDs (5 percent) were actually installed and there was little evidence that NYC Probation routinely followed-up with offenders to determine if they owned vehicles in which devices should be installed, or did not drive motor vehicles during the periods of their restrictions.
The IID installation rate (5.12 percent) was considerably less than recent statewide rates (about 26 percent). For instance, installation rates by county range from 8 percent in Franklin County to 51 percent in Rensselaer County.
According to the case files reviewed, offenders under the watch of NYC Probation circumvented the IID requirement by driving vehicles owned by family members or other parties. For example, one offender was stopped for a traffic violation in March 2014 and subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. The vehicle he drove belonged to his sister, who lived at the same address.
In another case, an offender was stopped for a traffic violation and caught driving without an IID on two separate occasions within a 12-month period. On one occasion, the offender was charged with resisting arrest related to erratic driving. At a later date, he was stopped and again charged with DWI. If not for the traffic violations, NYC Probation would not have known the offender was driving without a license or an IID.
When NYC-based offenders are convicted and sentenced to probation with the IID condition, their assigned probation officer (PO) is supposed to run a DMV check to determine whether the probationer’s driver license was previously suspended or revoked, and whether they have any vehicles registered in their name. This information is needed to identify the vehicles, if any, in which IIDs should be installed.
DiNapoli’s auditors reviewed the case files of a sample of 100 offenders, 60 of whom were repeat offenders, to determine whether the above-DMV checks were performed. They found:
- In 70 cases, there was no evidence that DMV checks were performed at intake;
- In 32 cases, there was no evidence that DMV checks were performed by the POs during the offender’s entire probation term. Seventeen of these 32 offenders did not install an IID
- Of the 68 cases that did have DMV checks during the probation term, 22 were considered high risk requiring monthly DMV checks. Auditors found evidence of monthly checks in only one of those cases; and
- In nine of the 68 cases, the DMV checks were performed as a result of DiNapoli’s audit.
Auditors further found NYC Probation doesn’t always notify the courts or district attorneys when DWI offenders under its supervision are trying to drive while impaired or drunk.
DiNapoli recommended NYC Probation:
- Develop and implement processes and procedures to ensure that DWI offenders install IIDs in any vehicle they own or have permission to operate, as ordered by the courts;
- Require probation officers to make and document all required DMV checks and home visits, as well as pertinent follow-up actions, when appropriate;
- Ensure officers promptly follow up on no-show offenders, absconders, and those who attempt to circumvent their court-ordered IID installation requirement; and
- When offenders violate the terms of their probation, make referrals to the appropriate courts and DAs, as warranted.
NYC Probation generally disagreed with the audit’s findings, arguing that many of the probationers did not own vehicles and could not have IIDs installed. The department’s full response, and the auditors’ comments to the response, are included in the full audit. Read the audit, Oversight of Persons Convicted of Driving While Intoxicated, or go to: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093016/14n4.pdf