Missouri's driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws are very strict. Violations of these laws can lead to high fines, jail, and lengthy driver's license suspensions. This is true even when it is your first offense for DWI. Most people know the offense as driving under the influence (DUI), but DWI is the accepted choice of what to call the law.
Just because you are charged with a crime, does not mean that you are guilty. With the assistance of an experienced Missouri DUI lawyer, any questions or concerns you have about your first DWI can be effectively addressed.
The Two Parts of a DWI Case
There are two separate parts of the Missouri DWI law. First is the criminal case against you. Second is the civil case with the Missouri Department of Revenue on how to handle the effects on your driver's license.
Understanding these two different parts of the DWI is crucial to presenting an effective defense.
The Criminal Case
Missouri law prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while in an "intoxicated condition." Operation of a vehicle includes:
- driving a vehicle, or
- being in "actual physical control of a vehicle."
"Actual physical control" does not actually require the vehicle to be moving, only that the "driver" be in such a position to restrain or regulate the movements of the vehicle.
Definition of Intoxication
A driver is considered to be in an "intoxicated condition" if he or she:
- is under the influence;
- of any combination of drugs, alcohol, or controlled substances;
- or has an excessive blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
An "excessive" BAC is considered to be:
- All Drivers: 0.08% BAC
- Commercial Drivers: 0.04% BAC
Criminal Penalties for DWI in Missouri
If convicted of a first DWI in Missouri, you face serious penalties. A first offense DWI carries the following possible penalties:
- a maximum jail sentence of 6 months; and
- a possible maximum fine of up to $1,000.00.
However, a judge can choose to suspend the sentence. If he or she does so, the person must complete two years of probation or court-ordered substance abuse treatment.
It is not a sure thing that you will go to jail. With the right defense presented on your behalf, you can keep out of jail in many cases, and maintain your freedom.
Enhancements to the Criminal Penalties
If a person's BAC is 0.15% or more, the penalties for even a first time DWI are enhanced, and more severe. If a person meets the requisite BAC, he or she will also face a minimum 48-hour jail term.
If the driver has a BAC of at least 0.2%, the driver must serve at least 5 days in jail.
When a person has one of the higher BAC levels, he or she may also be required to submit to continuous alcohol monitoring as well as random testing.
Common Probation Conditions
Required conditions of probation in Missouri include:
- 2 years of supervised or bench probation, and
- Substance Abuse Traffic Offenders Program (SATOP).
Other conditions which may be required by the Court include, but are not limited to:
- Victim Impact's Panel (VIP)
- Use of an ignition interlock device
- Community service hours
- Secured Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM)
- No drinking and driving
- Drug and Alcohol Evaluation & Treatment
- Submission to random testing for alcohol and drugs
- No consumption of alcohol or illicit substances
- Recoupment to arresting agency
Many of the conditions of probation that may be imposed depend on the judge's discretion. With the right attorney at your side, you can defend your case to establish a probation program you can follow successfully.
The Civil Case: Driver's License Suspension
In addition to all of the possible criminal charges you could face, you also face a civil sanction related to a first time DWI. In the State of Missouri, your driver's license can be administratively suspended through the Missouri Department of Revenue.
At the time of your initial arrest, the arresting officer will seize your driver's license, and issue a temporary driving permit. If your BAC was above 0.08%, you will also face an administrative process related to your driver's license.
The Administrative Process
If it is your first time with a DWI offense, and your BAC is over 0.08%, you will face a suspension of your driver's license for 90 days. You have to request an administrative hearing within 15 days after your arrest. If you do not, your driver's license will be automatically be suspended.
The driver is required to put in writing whether the hearing is to be in person or over the telephone. The Department of Revenue will send you a copy of the police report prior to the hearing. You will also be mailed a temporary permit to allow you to drive until your case is decided upon.
What to Expect at the Hearing
At the hearing, there is not a judge or a jury. Instead, it is an officer from the Department of Revenue who will oversee the proceedings. The arresting officer will also be at the hearing and will be the primary witness. Your attorney is permitted to inquire of the arresting officer about your arrest.
At the hearing, your attorney can show that there were issues with the arrest, of the arresting officer's testimony. This includes questioning the validity and accuracy of any breath test, chemical test, or field sobriety test administered during your arrest.
Once the hearing is finished, the Department of Revenue officer will review the facts of the case. He or she then must decide and mail the decision within 10 days. If the officer agrees with your arguments, you will not have your license suspended. If the officer does not agree, your license will be suspended.
Defenses to a DWI Case
There are defenses you can raise to a charge of DWI, including, but not limited to:
- challenge the validity of breath tests,
- challenge the accuracy of field sobriety tests,
- file a motion to suppress improperly obtained evidence, or
- prove to the jury that the prosecutor cannot prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Never assume that just because you are charged with a DWI, that you must plead guilty, or that there is not hope. With the right legal counsel by your side, you can raise defenses to protect your rights.
Consult an Experienced Missouri DUI Attorney
If you face a first time DWI in Missouri, there are defenses that can be raised to protect your constitutional rights. Contact Higher Level Legal Law Firm by calling (816) 331-9968 or fill out our online form.