New York State Exposed: Ignition interlock devices

Posted at: 03/31/2014 6:47 AM
Updated at: 03/31/2014 5:53 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

When people break the law, we expect them to face all the punishment and pay all the fines they’re supposed to pay. So News10NBC was surprised by what we found in our exclusive New York State Exposed investigation into people convicted of drunk driving.

Every time a person is convicted of DWI in New York, they are ordered to get a breath test device installed in their car. The car won’t start if the device detects alcohol on the driver’s breath. But News10NBC investigated the state reports and find out many drunk drivers in Monroe County get a waiver and don’t have to pay for it.

The devices are called ignition interlock devices. Nowhere in the state do judges give more drunk drivers a pass on paying for them than in Monroe County.

If you get convicted for drunk driving, then you get an ignition interlock device in your car, even if it is your first DWI. It is the law in New York State. On average, the devices cost $70 to $150 to install and another $60 to $80 dollars a month to maintain. So who pays for it? The law says the defendant does. But the law also says if the defendant claims to be poor, the judge can waive the payments. Since the law was passed in 2010, judges in Monroe County have issued more than 150 waivers.

Sarah Palermo said, “It is just something that my family and I have to live with every single day.”

Sarah Palermo’s daughter was killed by a drunk driver 10 years ago. She says no one offered her family a waiver for their grief or the funeral costs, only people who drive after drinking. 

Palermo said, “They don't have a problem with spending that monthly. But when it comes to paying for the consequences of their decision and breaking the law for that they need a waiver.”

There have been 150 waivers in Monroe County. Since 2010 in Albany County, there were 24 waivers. In Buffalo, Erie County, there were five waivers. In Syracuse, there were three waivers.

Bob Burns is the head of Monroe County Probation, the unit charged with monitoring interlock devices. 

Bob Burns, Monroe County Probation, said, “Judges will make a decision whether to waive or not.”

The list of judges who granted waivers is not publicly available, but probation says it's mostly happening in town courts and Rochester City Court, not county and Supreme Court. 

Ed Fiandach, DWI Attorney, said, “As a result, a local culture developed that it's going to be given under this situation, under that situation.”

Ed Fiandach is a DWI attorney in Rochester. 

Fiandach said, “That's what's happened and once you get the freight rolling it's pretty hard to stop.”

The state is concerned that if the same number of waivers is granted, the state will have to re-negotiate its contracts with interlock makers and allow them to charge more for each device. The concern with that is if the devices cost more, judges will just issue more waivers. 

Palermo said, “To send out a message like, ok, maybe you're in some kind of dire straits right now because you had to spend so much on your legal defense, because of your decision, I just don't think it's fair. I don't think it's wise and I don't think it's sending a good message out to the community.”

Judge Craig Doran, the supervising judge for the Rochester area, says the decision to grant waivers is left to the discretion of the individual judge and it would violate judicial ethics if he or any judge commented on that.

Click here to see how many Ignition Interlock Device waivers are issued in your county”