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The federal government was closed for business because politicians in Washington, D.C. had no middle ground on whether to erect a border wall. One side demanded wall-funding as a precondition for opening the government. The other side looked at a wall as anti-American. The parties could not identify a halfway measure between a wall and no wall, so negotiations broke down, and damage flowed to an estimated 800,000 federal workers and their families.

New York state is about 2,000 miles from the southern border, but its criminal justice system is approaching a wall of its own. Every year, thousands of motorists in New York state face charges for driving while intoxicated. They fill courtrooms and dockets, require scores of court personnel and judges, and bear the focus of prosecutors and defense attorneys. One law above all others keeps this system’s high cost from exploding: Vehicle and Traffic Law §1192(1). Under this law, DWI cases can resolve with a non-criminal infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor—“impaired” rather than “intoxicated.” So between the extremes of one side denying all guilt and the other side insisting upon a criminal record—a wall and no wall—§1192(1) is a middle ground that allows parties to agree and for many cases to get resolved efficiently with a plea.

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