If you get drunk, get behind the wheel of a car and get into a crash in New York State, you should flee the scene. Not morally, of course, but legally the repercussions will be less severe. A drunk driver who stays at the scene of a crash can be charged with a felony; sober up and take the hit-and-run charge and the worst you’ll face is a misdemeanor.
As Staten Island defense attorney Mario Gallucci told the Staten Island Advance, “As a defense attorney, you love it when they leave the scene, because it helps your case.”
Earlier this week, though, the State Senate passed legislation sponsored by Brooklyn Republican Marty Golden which would eliminate that perverse incentive. Golden’s bill would increase the penalty for leaving the scene of a crash, currently a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in prison, to match that of causing injury while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a Class E felony that can carry up to four years of jail time.
“This bill makes a very important change to the law in terms of aligning DUI and hit and run penalties in non-fatal or serious injury cases,” said Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez.
Golden’s bill passed the State Senate last year as well, but died in the Assembly. The Assembly version, introduced by Brooklyn Democrat Steven Cymbrowitz, currently has 23 sponsors and is before the transportation committee.
In the Senate, the bill passed by a vote of 58 to 1, with Brooklyn Democrat Velmanette Montgomery the only nay.
This afternoon, Golden held a press conference urging the Assembly to pass his legislation. He stood at the corner of 72nd Street and 7th Avenue, where a hit-and-run driver killed Amjad Barakat, a 33-year-old father of two.
Joining Golden was Republican Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis, who represents the area and is a supporter of Golden’s bill. Malliotakis also has legislation pending to create a three-strikes law for drunk driving convictions, revoking someone’s drivers license and vehicle registration for ten years after a third DUI. That bill passed the State Senate last year but has not yet this year.
“Anyone that would get behind the wheel and gamble with the lives of others on the road deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said Malliotakis in a statement. “With the holiday weekend coming up, now is the most important time to focus on safety for drivers and pedestrians. Whether it’s a repeat drunk driver, or a person who flees the scene of a crime, the message must be loud and clear – reckless drivers will end up behind bars.”
Said Golden, “This week, another person was left to die on our streets after getting hit by a car. And all too often, we hear of families destroyed by drunk drivers. This must be the year that the Empire State stands up against hit and runs and drunk driving.”