Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ithaca DWI Lawyer: DWI and My Client's Ithaca Jail Experience

Our local jail on a cold Ithaca winter morning!

In this blog post, I will give my little jail overview, and then an inside look from one of my clients who was nice enough to write it for me. I recently took a 2 hour plus jail tour but my client's insights below are a wonderful resource for those people having a short jail term to deal with.

On Warren Road just West of our local Ithaca airport sits our jail. Our little Tompkins county jail holds a maximum of 92 inmates. It is the smallest of the county jails in the Southern Tier. It was built early 1980s, and it shows. From the big computer terminals in the guard booth to the big red lights, buttons, and buzzers it feels a bit antiquated. Other local county jails (Seneca, Elmira, Binghamton) are many times larger, and hold many hundreds of people. Because of that one factor it is probably safer than the other county jails because everyone is closely watched, and there is far less room to move off the radar.

On the day of my visit their occupancy stood at 86, and they were hard pressed to accommodate more people easily. Remember that depending upon each new inmate's background (history) they have to shuffle the deck so to speak, and keep them all safely contained. Keep short term, low risk with short term, low risk, keep higher risk with higher risk, and keep those that don't play well with others, well maybe by themselves.

"Teach Them a Lesson" Short Term Incarceration

I have seen a recent trend amongst local prosecutors, and judges to sentence to short terms of county jail. Remember with a New York DWI misdemeanor you could be sentenced to up to a year of local incarceration. Long terms of jail are the exception, and not the rule, but short term stays of 4 to 15 days are becoming more common especially with plea reductions. Believe it or not local probation supervision and monitoring for a term of two or three years is probably a less attractive option for many people.

Unfortunately, the number of criminal cases moving through the system is going up not down. I do not feel jail or prison for that matter is the long term solution (nobody has asked me anyway). I have read enough books, and articles to state that the use of punishment to make some people change their behavior has not be shown to be effective, again in the long term. But alas this is our current mentality, along with a drinking age of 21, and still more arrests for marijuana in New York State. Under my attorney oath I swear to uphold the law but I don't always agree or understand them pragmatically.

Felony DWI and the 5 Day/240 hour Rule

With a felony DWI (a 2nd New York DWI within 10 years) the judge must sentence to either 5 days of local jail or 240 hours of community service. In my mind the jail seems easier, 240 hours is a lot of free work.

I asked one of my recent clients who had many factors against him on his current DWI to comment on his 9 day plea deal sentence of jail. His particular case was reduced to a DWAI, and considering everything it was a fair deal. It was part of the Farrar condition (see my blog post on Farrar conditions)

that the judge could NOT vary from or change. I left most of what he wrote intact, and inserted only a few comments to clarify.

Doing jail time:

So you have a sentence that includes some time in the big house (this is NOT prison).  

First things first, I will clarify that my time was spent in a county jail and I only speak about other county jails or state prisons based on what I was told by people who claimed to have been in them. 

--Understanding your sentence-- weekends vs. straight time

If given the opportunity to serve weekends or straight time I highly suggest straight time if possible. I say this for several reasons:

1) if you serve straight time you are (unless a full sentence is ordered by the judge) eligible for "goodtime" reduction of sentence as long as you don't have any issues while locked up. This means you are credited 1 full day for every 2 days served. In my case this meant my 9 days turned into 6 days. NYS sentencing laws do not allow for good time on weekend sentences.  

2) going in once sucks let alone going in multiple times. If your situation allows just get it done in one shot. It's better for everyone involved. 

3) Your release day counts as a full day even if you only serve 1 hour or 1 minute. I was able to get a 12:01am release after requesting it from the administrator of the jail.  NYS law's allow this on ALL sentences but it's 100% at the discretion of the administrator. 

My experience and my understanding from others was that this is not typically given to weekenders. Typically release time is 8am but can be any time on your release date. 

The reasons above were not clear to me and I initially had wished I had weekend sentence but quickly changed my mind after this all came about. Again I recommend straight time. 

No matter what time you show up on the day of your commitment (the day you agree to start your sentence) that day counts as a full day. So I went in at 5 pm on a Friday and that counted as my first full day. Another important fact is that any time you spent "detained" counts as a day. For example my arrest, even though I was not held overnight, counted as a full day. So my total days went from 9 to 5. 

To be more specific I served from 5pm on a Friday to 12:01am on the following Tuesday. Or basically 3.25 days of a 9 day sentence. Really not bad considering if I had taken the weekends I would have served 3 weekends from 5 pm on Fridayto 8 am Sunday. 

--Serving the time--

Show up on time and be polite and courteous. I had called ahead to make sure I could drive myself to serve. I suggest calling to check if your driving. 

When you do show up I would bring as little as possible with you. The less they have to store the better and any cash you come with us put into your commissary account.  When you arrive present your order of commitment and they will take you in to a holding cell. They likely won't even know if your gonna show up so depending on how busy the jail is it could be a while before they have a spot for you. This is also in part because you don't hit general population right out of the gate, more on that in a minute. 


When they are ready for you they will take you to the intake room. Here you will answer a number of questions regarding your medical and mental health. You will also be issued your gear: underwear, socks, jumpsuits , bedroll etc. You will be given an inmate number which is also your phone pin number. I assume this is common among all jails. Phone calls are collect to any land line but if your calling a cellphone the receiver of the call needs to setup an account. They can get info on this by calling the jail. The last step in the intake process is to make your one phone call. Call and let people know if you plan on calling and they need to accept charges. 

Step TWO: Your Cell

You will now be taken to your cell. You will be locked into a solo cell for a while during what they call classification. During this time they review your behavior, and decide where you will be placed.  For me this lasted only about 24 hours. I have heard it is usually a day or two in county jails but can be up to 5 days. A lot appears to do with how busy the jail is and how much space they have. This time will be incredibly boring. If your lucky someone around you will toss you a book to pass the time. Your locked in the cell for all except 1.5 hours of the day when you shower and help clean the cell or pod or what ever your in. The jail I was in had cell blocks and dorms. The blocks have 5 (1 or 2 person) cells each and a common space. Each cell has a toilet and sink and the common space has a shower. These spaces offer a little more privacy then the dorms. 

Step THREE: Medical Review

Once your done with classification and the nurse does your medical review you will be put into general population. I was moved from a block to the dorms. In these there are 4 sets of bunk beds in a room with a sink and toilet. It's really pretty low key in these spaces. We played a lot of cards and board games, watched a lot of TV. It's really, really boring. 


The food is nothing to write home about but it certainly was edible at least. 3 meals a day with decent variety. Lots of guys trade this or that for someone's this or that. 


There is outdoor recreation time 5 days a week for 1.5 hours a day. I suggest doing this. It passes some time and getting outside helps your remember the free world. 


If your doing more then a few days I would suggest mailing yourself a few books and some other allowables (instant coffee, candy, chips, etc.) This will really help you keep it together. Call the jail to get specifics about how and what is ok to send. You can also purchase these things from commissary with money you either have with you during intake or someone sends you. Commissary is ordered once or twice a week and delivered a few days after the order. This will be your only access to envelopes, paper, etc. Unless someone mails it in to you. 


In general if you keep a level head and a low profile you won't have trouble with the guards or the other inmates. There is an inherent commonality between inmates that makes it pretty easy to get along. Very few of them are looking for trouble and the ones who are get separated to other locations and lockdown by the staff. 

Always consult with an attorney about any criminal or non-criminal charges you have pending to discuss your options and/or defenses. I am an attorney, former chiropractor, coach, advisor, and professional speaker.

My online materials include over 600 + blog posts, dozens of articles, and over 550 + informative videos on my youtube channel. I have authored and co-authored numerous books and articles on law both universal and man-made.

I was selected by Super Lawyers as a Upstate New York 2013 Rising Star in DWI/DUI Defense based on my experience, contributions, and professional standing.

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