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


Come back with a warrant


Missouri bill would criminalize refusal to take breath test

People often hear that they should refuse to take the breath test if they are arrested for a DWI. Unfortunately–in the case of a simple first offense DWI–that belief will frequently result in worse results than if a person is convicted of the DWI. Refusal to blow will probably result in a one year revocation of that person’s Missouri drivers license.

A bill in the Missouri legislature takes a “refusal” to blow to a new level. SB 780, sponsored by Sen Matt Bartle, makes refusing to submit to chemical testing a separate crime, equivalent to a first-time DWI

In view of the heavy administrative penalty (one year revocation) already on the books, I am not certain how useful this provision will be. It creates a bizarre situation with regard to other statutes that still remain in effect. Section 577.041 requires the arresting officer to allow a DWI suspect twenty minutes in which to contact an attorney about whether to take the breath test.

It seems odd to specifically provide extra time for a suspect to call a lawyer to ask if he should commit a crime. This places the attorney in a situation of having to violate ethical rules if he makes any specific recommendation. I can imagine getting a phone call at 3:00 am:

Me: What can I do for you?

Suspect: I’m at the police station and I want to know if I should take the breath test? I got arrested for DWI.

Me: You are asking me if you should commit another crime?

Suspect: The cop said I could call a lawyer to see if I should blow.

Me: OK, here’s the deal. I can’t advise you to commit a crime. I could advise you to obey the law and take the test, but I can’t do do that either, because it could make your situation worse. However–wink, wink–If you do take the test, X will happen. If you don’t, Y will happen. Good luck.

This bill is hardly necessary, and–as the above shows–creates difficulties within the existing law.  It needs to fail.