Gianaris bill would toughen penalties for unlicensed drivers who kill or injure others

Sen. Michael Gianaris, courtesy of the New York State senate

A proposal to toughen penalties for drivers without valid licenses who kill or injure other motorists or pedestrians passed the Senate on Monday.

The legislation (S.3299/A.3759) was introduced by Sen. Michael Gianaris, D- Queens, after the 2013 death of eight-year-old Noshat Nahian by an unlicensed driver.

According to The New York Times, the truck driver, Mauricio Osorio-Palominos, 51, of Newark, was arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor, and operating a vehicle in violation of safety rules.

Gianaris reintroduced the bill this January after it died in the Assembly Codes Committee last spring. He redoubled efforts to pass the bill after the death of Queens teen Kevin Flores in January because the driver who killed him was not charged.

The driver, Phillip Monfoletto, had nine license suspensions on his record and continued to drive with a suspended license. After he killed Flores he wrote a Facebook post mocking the leniency of the New York laws.

Kevin Flores

According to The New York Post, last year Monfoletto bragged about driving with a suspended license, sharing another user’s Facebook photo that said: “How can u drive knowin yo license suspended.”

Next to the photo was a video of a man driving with one foot on the steering wheel — and another up in the air.

“Catch me if you can,” Monfoletto captioned the post, adding zipped-lips and ghost emojis.

Philip Monfoletto’s lawyer, Ronald Rubenstein, insisted in The New York Post article that Monfoletto’s Facebook post has no relevance and that a suspended license shouldn’t matter.

“The bottom line is the evidence in the case is, whoever was driving was driving properly,” Rubenstein told the Post. “Nobody could have driven better if they had a license or didn’t have a license.”

Currently, the most severe penalty a prosecutor can seek is a misdemeanor. Convicted drivers do not usually serve any jail time. Gianaris’ legislation would increase the penalty to a Class E felony for seriously injuring a person and a Class D felony if the accident resulted in a death, with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

“I am pleased the Senate passed this important proposal, which is the first step towards delivering justice for families victimized by reckless motorists,” Gianaris said. “These dangerous drivers continue to kill because the current punishment does not fit the crime. We must get serious about strengthening laws before another life is lost at the hands of drivers who should not be behind the wheel.”

The bill is now in the Assembly in the Codes committee, sponsored by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, D-Astoria.