Drunken Drivers Face Lifetime Ban

Tina Piette and Peter Gerstenzang shared a light moment during a June 20 Bridgehampton conference
Tina Piette and Peter Gerstenzang shared a light moment during a June 20 Bridgehampton conference on the laws and regulations governing drunken driving arrests in New York State. T.E. McMorrow

    A veritable Who’s Who of East End criminal prosecutors, defense attorneys, and even a couple of judges gathered in Bridgehampton on June 20 to discuss the sobering topic of drunken-driving arrests, particularly in relation to a new Department of Motor Vehicles regulation that could result in repeat offenders being banned for life from driving in New York State.

    The event, organized by two attorneys, Tina K. Piette and Peter Walsh, featured Peter Gerstenzang, who is considered the pre-eminent authority on the subject, as lead speaker. He is senior partner of Gerstenzang, O’Hern, Hickey, Sills, and Gerstenzang, an Albany law firm.

    East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana was present, as were Southampton Village and Town Justice Barbara Wilson and Steve Tekulsky, a candidate for East Hampton Town Justice.

    “All of us are going to be working a lot harder,” Mr. Gerstenzang told the packed room at the Bridgehampton National Bank conference center. Cases will take longer to adjudicate, he said, with many more going to trial, as a result of the new regulation, enacted last September.

    At its heart, it requires the D.M.V. to do a 25-year review of the driving history of anyone with three or more alcohol-related convictions. The review is triggered not only by a new conviction but also by any revocation of a driver’s license — for example, for letting insurance lapse, by a five-point moving violation such as reckless driving, for texting or using a hand-held cellphone while driving. (The D.M.V. made hand-held cellphone use a five-point violation as of June 1.)

    The net effect of the new regulation, it was predicted, will be more litigation. Defendants will be far more inclined to go to trial rather than plead guilty, if it means losing one’s license, possibly for life.

    That was one reason why all of District Attorney Thomas Spota’s East End prosecutors were on hand. Dan Cronin, an assistant district attorney often seen in East Hampton Town Court, remarked that “the defense attorneys are here, so we’re here, to learn.”

    “This is going to spur a lot of desperate litigation,” Mr. Gerstenzang said. “People have to drive. It is going to create a sense of lawlessness.”

    His firm is challenging the legality of the new regulation on several grounds, claiming among other things that the D.M.V., an administrative agency, usurped the powers of the State Legislature in enacting it, and that it represents an ex post facto punishment, meaning it should apply only to convictions imposed since it went into effect.

    Ms. Piette also spoke, encouraging her fellow criminal lawyers to defend their clients aggressively in the face of the new regulations, starting with the defendant’s first hearing at the D.M.V. While those hearings almost always result in a license suspension, it is the first time an attorney gets to question the arresting officer.