DUI/DWI In New York – Relicensing Litigation

Stop Castle 2.jpgImage: LeCours Chertok & Yates, LLP, (incorporating an image entitled “Amberly Castle” by Nathaniel Buck, Samuel Buck (British Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

As we’ve noted before, New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles has ‘gotten tough’ on drivers with a history of alcohol-related incidents. New rules were introduced as an ’emergency’ measure in 2012, and drivers with three or more alcohol-related incidents on their driving records found their applications to be relicensed denied, in some cases permanently. Thanks to these rules, New York may be the toughest state in the union when it comes to relicensing after an alcohol-related conviction.

The new regulations were challenged, of course. Article 78 of New York’s Civil Procedure Law and Rules provides a vehicle for testing the legality of administrative actions, and aggrieved (former) motorists have taken full advantage of it. At least five of these Article 78 petitions have made it through the system, from initial filing to (predictable) denial: Brown v. New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles in Nassau County; Gaebel v. New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles in Sullivan County; Carney v. New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles, in Albany County; and Acevedo v. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and Allen v. NYS Dept of Motor Vehicles, both filed in Albany County.

Petitioners have raised many objections to the new regime, some of them reflecting the petitioners’ desperate circumstances. Messrs. Gaebel and Carney quite frankly asserted – among other things – their ‘hardship’; Mr. Carney, for instance, claimed in Albany County Supreme Court that the “permanent loss of his license is disproportionate to the offense” for which he lost it, and that judicial relief was “necessary to ameliorate the harsh imposition of this sanction by DMV.” He also argued that DMV’s rules violated the equal protection clause of the US Constitution because a lifetime look back necessarily discriminated against older drivers; they’d had more time to mess up. Mr. Gaebel pointed out that a

back injury requires him to attend doctors’ appointments and there is no public transportation to permit him to get to these appointments on his own. At present, the Petitioner indicates that he is not even eligible to get a conditional license, which would permit him to drive to his medical appointments.


Acevedo v. New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles is representative of these cases. (You can link to the decision, above.) Mr. Acevedo’s petition was filed in the Supreme Court, Albany County, in April of 2013. A decision was handed down in February of this year.

The petitioner, as summarized by the court on page 3 of its (printed) decision, had attacked on many fronts:

[He] maintains that the regulations conflict with the provisions of VTL §§ 510, 1193, and 1198 (among others). He asserts that they violate the Separation of Powers doctrine; and that the underlying enabling legislation is unconstitutional, as an overly broad delegation of legislative authority. In the alternative, he contends that the Commissioner [of Motor Vehicles] exceeded her authority as delegated by the legislature. The petitioner also alleges that the new regulations violate his right to due process; that they constitute an illegal Ex Post Facto law; that they are arbitrary and capricious; and that [DMV’s] delay in processing petitioner’s application was illegal and improper.

Unfortunately, the court’s response to these arguments amounts to a very articulate, carefully reasoned – and 40-page-long – bronx cheer. The regulations are not an ‘illegal Ex Post Facto law’, per the court. Nor do they violate drivers’ right to due process. DMV hasn’t exceeded its authority as delegated by the legislature – and the legislature did, indeed, have the power to delegate that authority, etc.

This is not necessarily the final word, in any of these cases: there are two levels of appellate court in New York that can – and probably will – consider these issues. There’s also, potentially, a federal court challenge.

But for now, the regulations stand, and for drivers subject to these regulations, the results can be tragic. To be fair, though, the rules only apply to drivers with three or more lifetime alcohol-related incidents, and that means you do have to meet DMV more than half way. You get not one, but two, bites at the apple before the apple bites you back.