New DWI laws could have “unintended consequences”

After the governor’s November DWI summit, we can expect new laws that promise to crack down on repeat DWI offenders. Oddly, the news reports seem to suggest a need–not for a crackdown on drunk drivers–but rather a crackdown on courts and prosecutors.

One of the biggest problems cited relates to the many arrested drivers who refuse to give a breath sample to determine their blood alcohol content. The law already requires a one year license revocation for such a refusal, but apparently prosecutors are being blamed for allowing DWI offenders to keep their licenses in exchange for guilty pleas on the underlying criminal offense.

Reports also cite prosecutors and judges giving probation to DWI offenders, thereby avoiding any conviction from appearing on a person’s record. This seemingly ignores recommendations of the federal goverment not to permit such practices.

Changes in the law may make it a crime to refuse to give a breath sample. Other changes could prevent prosecutors from plea deals which would keep a DWI from appearing in state and national databases. Another possible change is to make it a more serious crime to drive with a blood alcohol higher than .15% (the current level is .08%).

It turns out that some prosecutors are not enthusiastic about changing the law, citing unintended consequences of the new laws.

Prosecutors know that if their hands are tied by uncompromising rules, it will change the way they do business. This is because criminal cases do not always appear in black and white. Shades of grey are the norm.

When the prosecutors are prohibited from making reasonable compromises, fewer DWI charges will be filed. Either that or many cases will end up dismissed or lost at trial.

Look for a get-tough bill to be filed soon in the Missouri legislature.


Come back with a warrant

DWI: Giant fines and jail time, but no need for an attorney.

Spring in the Missouri legislature always sees the introduction of bills designed to prevent drunk driving.

In addition to the Drunk Driver Victims memorial signs discussed in an earlier post, here are a couple more:

Senator Wes Shoemyer’s Senate Bill 861, attempts to close what some consider a “loophole” in the DWI laws. Currently, some DWI-related convictions do not count toward “enhanced” punishment for persons accused of subsequent alcohol offenses, unless the defendant is represented by counsel or has waived the right to an attorney in writing.

This bill simply snips away the requirement that the defendant must have been “represented by or waived the right to an attorney in writing.”

This is one of those bills that tries to crackdown on DWI offenders, but in the end may backfire by permitting the courts to get sloppy about the constitutional right to an attorney. This would result in overturned convictions and would foul up repeat offender charges.

A written waiver of an attorney is a simple method to protect defendant’s rights (and the prosecutor’s conviction record). A written waiver in the file usually ends any controversy. By doing away with this requirement, Senate Bill 861 will create more problems than it solves.

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Senator Tom Dempsey’s Senate Bill 1053 doesn’t beat around the bush. In addition to jail, fines and license suspensions (click here for a complete list), this bill tacks on an additional–and mandatory–$1,000 fine on a first offense; $2,500 on any later offense.

I guess it follows that since poor people cannot possibly pay such fines, only rich folks will be able to afford DWI’s anymore!

As a practical matter, the courts will be helpless to deal with such mandatory fines, except to sentence everyone to jail and put them on probation with orders to pay the fine in 30 – 90 days. Then when half of them can’t pay, just throw them in jail.