In a landmark court decision, a Rochester judge recently allowed a Pittsfield man to vacate his Rochester DWI conviction based on the fact that an administrative rule change violated the Constitution’s prohibition against ex post facto laws. In the case of People v. Luther, East Rochester Town Justice Terrence Brown-Steiner agreed to allow Daniel Luther to withdraw a guilty plea that he had made to a DWI charge because during the required 20-day stay after his plea, the New York Department of Motor Vehicles changed its re-licensing regulations.
Mr. Luther was stopped by police on August 5th and charged with misdemeanor DWI charges and many other vehicle and traffic violations. Mr. Luther pleaded guilty to the DWI charge on February 11th to satisfy all the charges against him. As a part of his plea bargain, Mr. Luther received a minimum sentence and fines, which included a mandatory six-month revocation of his driver’s license, attendance at a Victim Impact Panel, installation of an ignition interlock device for six months and a $500 fine. When Mr. Luther entered his plea in court, he did so under the belief that he would be able to apply to get his driver’s license reinstated after the six-month revocation period was over.
Under the old version of Department of Motor Vehicles Emergency Regulation § 136.5(b) , if a person has two alcohol or drug related convictions or incidents in any combination within 25 years preceding the date of the revocable offense, then the commissioner may in his or her discretion approve the person’s application to get their driver’s license back after the minimum statutory period is served. In Mr. Luther’s case, the “minimum statutory period” was six months at the time he entered a guilty plea to the DWI charge.
However, during the statutory 20-day stay period after entering his guilty plea, the DMV changed its regulations and made the period that Mr. Luther would have to wait to get his driver’s license reinstated at least two years or more. The new version of DMV regulation 136.5 was enacted on February 22, 2013 and was immediately implemented 11 days after Mr. Luther entered his guilty plea. Under the new regulation, a third DWI plea, conviction or serious offense within 25 years would result in a period of ineligibility to get a driver’s license reinstated way beyond the six month mandatory suspension period. In Mr. Luther’s case, the new regulation would have required him to wait at least 2 years after the six-month revocation period to be able to apply to get his license back.
The court held that the new regulation constituted an ex post facto law, which is prohibited under Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution. An ex post facto law is one that applies to a crime that occurred before it was enacted and works to disadvantage a criminal defendant in some way. In Mr. Luther’s case, the court held that the new DMV regulation rendered his DWI crime punishable in a different and more disadvantageous way than was true under the law at the time he committed the offense.
Even though the DMV was allowed to change the regulations through a provision of the State Administrative Procedure Act which allows for the creation of emergency regulations without the usual requirement of public comment, the judge ruled that the new regulation was subject to judicial scrutiny. Applying this theory, the court examined the content of the new regulation in question and concluded that it was a law that imposed an additional and harsher consequence than the law that existed at the time when Mr. Luther committed the DWI offense. Therefore, the court held that Mr. Luther was entitled to a new trial on the DWI charge.
The attorneys at the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are experienced in handling DWI cases. If you need a lawyer who can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your DWI case, call the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys.
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