Yonkers, NY — Assemblyman Mike Spano (D-C-WF-Yonkers) is joining Governor Paterson in calling for tougher penalties against drunk drivers in New York State. Since 2007, Spano, who has been a long proponent of stricter drunk driving penalties, has pushed for the “Johnny Lopez law,” which he authored, to allow prosecutors to charge drunk drivers who kill with murder in the second degree (A.5356).
‘Johnny Lopez law’ would allow for the toughest prosecution in the nation against those who drink, drive and kill someone,” Spano said. “This bill is named after Johnny Lopez1. Johnny Lopez and his wife were stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Central Park Avenue and Arlington Street in Yonkers when they were hit by a drunk driver who had a history of alcohol-related convictions. Tragically, Johnny Lopez perished in this accident.”
On July 26, Diane Schuler entered the Taconic Parkway in the wrong direction and struck a SUV head-on, killing eight people: Schuler, her three nieces, her daughter and three Yonkers men. Police later said that Schuler’s blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit. Arrests for impaired driving in Westchester County have increased from 3,752 in 2001 to 5,201 in 2008 – a 39-percent increase in seven years.
Under current law, a drunk driving accident that results in death is classified as vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, a class C felony. There is no minimum prison sentence for such crimes, and the maximum sentence cannot exceed 15 years. Under Assemblyman Spano’s proposed legislation, prosecutors could charge drunk drivers who kill behind the wheel with murder in the second degree, a class A-I felony which carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years.
“With creative prosecution, district attorneys have been able to successfully charge perpetrators with second degree murder in certain cases, such as in Long Island,” Spano said. “District attorneys should not have to be creative to charge a person with murder in the instance they kill someone in a drunk driving accident, this creates an unequal distribution of justice in New York State which could be rectified with a clear and distinct penalty written into state law.”
Spano is also calling for the passage of The Child Passenger Protection Act, which Governor Paterson submitted to state lawmakers this week, that would make driving while drunk or on drugs with passengers under the age of 16 a felony. The offense is now a misdemeanor, or in some cases a traffic infraction. The legislation also would require first-time DWI offenders who had a child passenger to pass a breathalyzer installed in their vehicle before the vehicle would start.
“Children who are in the car with a drunk driver have no choice in the matter,” Spano said. “The Governor’s proposal, along with other proposals being offered in regard to drunk driving penalties, are long over due. I am urging the State Legislature to seriously look at these measures in the upcoming legislative session so people who drink, drive and kill someone can be persecuted to the full extent of the law.”