Leandra’s Law Incidents Are Still Occurring

Few Leandra’s Law criminal offenses are occurring in Chautauqua County, but incidents do still happen.

Leandra’s Law, also known as the Child Passenger Protection Act, is a New York state law making it an automatic felony on the first offense to drive drunk with a person age 15 or younger inside the vehicle, and have a blood alcohol content at .08 or higher. The bill was unanimously passed by the state Assembly and Senate and then signed into law by former Gov. David Paterson on Nov. 18, 2009.

Harry Snellings, Jamestown Police Department chief and city public safety director, said of the 135 driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs arrest made in 2018, only four of the arrest where made under Leandra’s Law.

“As far as the effectiveness of the law, you would have to compare numbers prior to and then after the law was enacted. Locally, the number is low, which is a positive thing,” he said.

William Ohnmeiss Jr., Ellicott Police Department chief, said he doesn’t know if the town’s police department breaks down Leandra’s Law arrest and “regular” driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs offenses separately, but said it’s not a regular occurrence.

“We have had them, but it is not a prominent thing,” he said. “It would be a low number in our area compared to overall DWIs. The trend we are seeing is that DWIs are decreasing, which is a good thing. I think that it’s mostly due to the education of the younger drivers coming up as oppose to years ago when there was a lack of education in that area.”

John Bentley II, Lakewood-Busti Police Department chief, also said he doesn’t know if the department keeps track of Leandra’s Law arrest, but knows it has happened in his department’s coverage area. He said the difference between a Leandra’s Law charge and a typical DWI charge is that it automatically takes the offense to the aggravated level.

According to nycourts.gov, first time offenders driving while intoxicated or impaired by drugs with a 15-year-old or younger child passenger can be charged with a class E felony, which is punishable by up to four years in prison, with a class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in state prison.

Even if no child is in the vehicle, anyone convicted of any felony or misdemeanor drunk driving offense is sentenced — in addition to any fine, jail or prison sentence — to a period of probation or conditional discharge. During that period, the driver is required to install and maintain an Ignition Interlock Device, for at least 12 months, in any motor vehicle they own or operate. The driver also has an ignition interlock restriction added to their driver’s license.

A parent, guardian, custodian or anyone legally responsible for a child who is charged with driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs while that child is a passenger in the car is reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment by the arresting agency.

Leandra’s Law is named after Leandra Rosado, an eleven year old girl who was killed in a car crash Oct. 11, 2009, after the driver, who had allegedly been drinking for several hours prior to the crash, lost control of her vehicle on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

James Quattrone, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, said unfortunately those who break the law don’t think about it before they do it.

“The first time I charged someone (with breaking Leandra’s Law), it was less than a year later we were charging the same person with the same charge,” he said. “I’m hoping, overall, (Leandra’s Law) has curtailed the overall (driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs with children in the car). (DWI) numbers have decreased, as have deaths, but that is a result of stricter enforcement.”

He said during the last 10 years the law has been in effect, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office numbers are consistent year to year, with it being around seven. He said last year, there were five people arrested using Leandra’s Law, with eight in 2017. The highest years were 2013 and 2015 when nine were arrested by the Sheriff’s Office.

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