Leandra’s Law received considerable media attention when it was signed into law nearly a year ago, making New York one of the toughest states on drunk driving. Since then, news accounts have been consistently full of reports of arrests and charges under the new law, which makes it a felony to drive drunk or under the influence of drugs with a child under 16 in the vehicle.

During the first six months Leandra’s law has been in effect, there were 311 arrests under the law statewide. (These figures, from December 2009 to July 2010, are the most recent data available.) Check the police blotter of just about any newspaper or local news web site, and you’ll find reports of arrests made under the provisions of the new law, which targets driving under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol.

One recent arrest out of Clinton County in the northeast corner of the state is a good example. On October 4, sheriff’s deputies arrested a 24-year-old woman for speeding through a parking lot. They found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in her car – and also a five-year-old child.

Before the new law took effect, if this had been a first offense, the woman would have been charged with a misdemeanor. Now the woman will likely be charged with a felony under Leandra’s Law, which escalates not only DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) to felony status, but also DWAI/Drug (Driving While Ability Impaired by a drug other than alcohol). A felony conviction normally carries at least a one-year jail term.

It is important to remember that a felony charge, while extremely serious, is not a guarantee of a felony conviction and mandatory yearlong incarceration. Judges may exercise some discretion in sentencing; one person who recently pled guilty under the law in Buffalo received five years of probation and was required to wear an alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet and complete a DWI program, rather than be sent to prison.

If you are facing drunk driving or drugged driving charges of any type, contact an experienced defense attorney.