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Interview with Westchester County DWI Lawyer Robert Schuster

Why did you become a DWI attorney?

Before I began my criminal defense practice in 1998, I garnered a substantial background in public sector criminal law. Following internships with the Baltimore City States Attorney's Office where I participated in homicide prosecutions and the Anne Arundel County Public Defender's Office I entered Georgetown University Law Center. During that period I interned at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and after graduation took a position as an Assistant District Attorney in New York State, which I left in 1997 after putting together a very substantial track record of successful jury trials and during which time I also prosecuted dozens of grand jury and appellate matters.

After opening up the doors to my defense practice, I found that DWI became one of my favorite areas of law. DWI involves the use of a great deal of scientific evidence - often more than even homicide matters, and applies use of some of the medical background with respect to scientific testing and field sobriety tests that I garnered as a pre-med student at Johns Hopkins. I also found that DWI crimes are largely committed by good people who make mistakes of judgment. Many times these individuals are fine citizens who have no prior criminal background.


What experience do you have with DWI cases?

I have prosecuted and defended over one thousand DWI cases in my career. I have tried several to verdict and have had several felony and hundreds of misdemeanor DWI cases dismissed or reduced to non-criminal violations. I have an in-depth knowledge of police procedure and the regulations and statutes that govern DWI law from arrest through the criminal process and a deep knowledge of all the administrative and civil collateral consequences of a DWI prosecution. I do not select cases to try to verdict lightly because of the risk to the client. I have never lost a DWI trial.

One recent case in particular where all DWI charges were dismissed was particularly satisfying. My client had two prior DWI convictions and was charged with Felony Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs under NYS VTL 1192(4) and four other charges. Despite statements my client made to police regarding his consumption of alcohol, and significant amounts of cocaine present in plain view on the front seat of the vehicle, ultimately all the Felony DWI and DWAI charges were dismissed with a full sealing order for my client. In this case, the significant circumstantial evidence that my client was driving under the influence of drugs was not substantiated by valid lab work.

Despite agreeing to field sobriety tests and a breath test my client refused a blood test. After noting the defects and flaws in the bill of particulars and in the officer's summary report regarding how many field sobriety tests the defendant passed and failed and because the only failed test was the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, I argued this was consistent with the defendant's minor consumption of alcohol and not the ingestion of cocaine. Furthermore, no drug recognition expert observed the defendant at the time of the investigation. As far as the alcohol charges were concerned, following a careful examination of the officer's certification and the calibration records of the intoxylzer device, I found that the reading was within the margin of error for the device, and that charge also had to be dismissed. As a result, my client, a corporate executive, was able to avoid not only State Prison, but avoided local jail time, probation, any fines or any criminal suspension of his driving privileges pursuant to the court proceedings on his felony, misdemeanor, and other 1192 charges, all of which were dismissed.

Another felony DWI matter I successfully fought to dismiss resulted in my clients plea to a second Misdemeanor DWI where he garnered a conditional discharge and a fine only. This is highly uncommon in a plea situation where the initial charge is a felony. Mitigating factors in that matter included my client pulling over to the side of the road and out of traffic after realizing his condition. He had been abusing alcohol because of an effort to self-treat depression resulting from his wife's battle with cancer. After getting the help he needed, I was able to convince the prosecutor and the Judge in the matter that a felony conviction would cripple his ability to provide for his struggling family. He got the help he needed and the result his family deserved.


Shouldn't drunk drivers be punished?

Of course. However, we enjoy a presumption of innocence in this country and do not allow the government to steamroll over us in a DWI case without proving their case through scientifically valid evidence.


What issues do you look at in a DWI case?

There are numerous issues resulting from improper calibration of intoxylzer devices, uncertified operators of these devices, issues regarding the speed of the body metabolizing alcohol, and many factors that can affect the accuracy of field sobriety tests that must be investigated before a rush to judgment or a plea can be contemplated. These include medications and medical conditions the defendant may have, along with improper administration of those tests.


How does your background as a prosecutor help you in defending DWI clients?

Because I prosecuted and tried so many cases to verdict I have a thorough understanding of what a prosecutor must have by way of evidence at his disposal to successfully try a DWI case. As a result, I understand how to explain to a prosecutor the weaknesses in his case and garner outstanding dispositions for my clients without the risk of trial. However, when trial is unavoidable because the prosecutor will not or cannot budge from his position, I have the skill and experience to fight for the acquittal that my client requires.


Have you received any special training or education in DWI defense?

I have participated in and completed certification in numerous Continuing Legal Education Classes involving the defense of DWI matters.


Do you have a reputation in Westchester County as a DWI attorney?

After having worked opposite most of the prosecutors in Westchester County on DWI cases, including those that handle the serious Felony DWI matters in White Plains, I believe that the prosecutors understand that I am a very thorough defender who is willing to proceed to trial on a problematic DWI case. On the occasions that I have come up against district attorney's office policies regarding reductions and have had to seek higher levels in an effort to mitigate in favor of bending those policies, I believe that I am known as a defender who understands that it requires evidentiary concerns and colorable arguments that a trial acquittal is truly a serious consideration in order to affect those policies. Because of this, my arguments are given the requisite consideration. Furthermore, when I do present a mitigation packet pertaining to my clients compliance and character it is presented appropriately and given the respect it deserves. This gets me the results my clients need.


Why do prosecutors in Westchester County take such a hardline approach to DWI charges?

DWI is a serious crime. People have been killed every year in Westchester County due to DWI. It is a matter that prosecutors must handle with the utmost seriousness because of the tragedies that occur.


What is the most common question that a client asks you during a consultation about a DWI case?

It is common that the client asks if they will go to jail and what the consequences will be to their driving privileges. I cannot remember the last time a client of mine had to serve jail time on a DWI charge.


What is your motivation when defending a client against DWI charges?

My goal is simple. To fiercely and thoroughly defend my client so that the final outcome leaves me completely confident that no other attorney could have garnered a better result.