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.