Missouri teen texting ban is a failure

Jefferson City Criminal LawyerIn August 2009, reading, sending or writing text messages while driving became illegal for anyone under age 21. Section 304.820, RSMo

It’s easy to understand why messaging is dangerous while driving, but it’s hard to see why it’s more dangerous than sorting your CD collection or putting on lipstick in the rear-view mirror.

My thought at the time was that the only way to get convicted of this offense would be to confess to it. Otherwise, it’s difficult to prove you were texting (as opposed to starting a phone call or looking for an address or surfing the internet).

[Teenager tip: Don’t text and drive, but if you get stopped for texting, do not confess. DO NOT CONFESS.]

A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article noted that in the first five months the law was in effect, the Missouri Highway Patrol has issued just 13 tickets for the offense statewide, resulting in eight convictions. That might as well be ZERO.

The fact that the law has proven useless is not likely to stop another 20 states from joining the dozen states that already have the ban in place. Lawmakers–recognizing that the law is unenforceable–note that it raises awareness of the danger. It’s sort of like the Missouri seat belt law: basically unenforceable, but lawmakers get to be seen on the side of the angels.

Lest the bosses at the Capitol building give themselves too much credit for “raising awareness,” they should recognize that most of us wear seat belts because it’s safer, not because it’s illegal.

This may all be moot, however, since Congress is considering making the bans universal. If Missouri’s $200 fine does not stop this behavior, perhaps time in federal prison would scare us all straight. For our own good.

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New Missouri DWI law would be harshest ever.

Jefferson City Criminal LawyerThe rage of DWI-related pressure groups is being vented through a proposed Missouri law sponsored by Joplin area state Rep. Brian Stevenson. Stevenson really takes off the gloves with this legislation–HB 1695–and removes any pretense that the “punishment should fit the crime.” HB 1695 creates new crimes such as: first offense driving over a .15% blood alcohol level or refusing to take a breath test.

MIssouri DWI lawInstead of offering treatment options that are given to drug offenders, the new law piles on more restrictions to keep offenders from driving at all.

Even if the offender never drinks and drives again, the license revocations are so lengthy, many drivers must choose between obeying the law and losing their jobs. Eventually they end up in jail or prison–not because they hurt or even endangered others–but because they disobeyed their government to make a living.

It’s not all bad. Some provisions of the law make it more likely that convictions are reported fairly and reliably throughout the state. One is that it forces all municipal judges to take remedial training in Missouri’s DWI laws.

One very sad provision of the new law eliminates what many consider a reasonable and merciful provision of our current law. It’s the one that permits a person who gets a first and ONLY DWI conviction to have their record expunged by the court if they go ten full years without any new alcohol-related contact or conviction.

This is a provision that ought to be extended to many misdemeanor crimes: make one small mistake and if you behave for ten years, we’ll forgive and forget. Instead, we are going the other way.

Perhaps our legislature will see this bill as overreaching and fundamentally unfair. We all know friends or family members who have had an alcohol offense. We know most of them are not repeat offenders and are good neighbors–not the sort that make good political cannon fodder.

If politicians want to grandstand, there are easier targets. For example, sex offenders. The public seems not to mind what we do to them, even after they have paid for their crimes. Certainly there are many more stupid demands they might make of sex offenders, things even more ridiculous than having to hide inside their homes on Halloween.

See New law makes sex offenders hunker down for Halloween

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