Post-Dispatch Reports on Lax DWI Prosecutions St. Charles DWI lawyer characterizes reports as true, but misleading
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently reported on numerous alleged abuses in the DWI system. The articles recount the occurrences in St. Louis metropolitan courts. They were a culmination of the news organization's ostensibly lengthy and thorough analysis of DWI pleas, convictions (or non-convictions) and sweetheart deals that seemed to good to be true.
Although the reporters' accounts of what has happened with some DWI offenders in past years meet the rigors of accuracy, the story of what really happens to the wide majority of DWI defendants went largely unmentioned. And the reporters' jaw-dropping account of the several multiple offenders taking no convictions repeatedly is more anecdotal than indicative of how the system really deals with DWIs. Furthermore, much of the data the story cites comes from the most recent available records, some three years old.
The newspaper reported on several motorists who have been arrested for multiple DWIs. Many of these motorists received no convictions, or repeated suspended sentences which resulted in no convictions, or amended charges that became a boilerplate traffic ticket. As any St. Charles DWI lawyer can tell you, those types of outcomes are highly irregular without serious problems with the arresting officer's case. The report certainly raises questions about the few who get unfathomable deals, over and over, and even put the driving and riding public at risk. However, it is important to note that there are two parts of a DWI charge that makes getting one over on the system far more difficult than it was in past years.
First, there's the criminal justice system. That's chiefly what the Post-Dispatch addressed. However, perhaps the harshest aspect of a DWI charge or conviction for the mass of offenders comes from the administrative sanctions.
Department of Revenue now is the clearinghouse for DWI records. That's the Missouri agency responsible for driver licenses and record keeping thereof. In the past, a small municipality could essentially "sell down" a DWI to a speeding or parking ticket in consideration for a hefty fine. And no one would know. Under that past regime, the ability of recidivist drunk drivers to avoid numerous DWI convictions and license revocations was less than difficult. That's why state lawmakers determined many years ago the role of record keeping on DWIs should be with DOR. Therefore, even when a prosecutor gives a sweetheart deal to a recidivist drunk driver, that driver still will lose his or her license for 90 days, a year, five years, ten years or even a lifetime denial.
Only a first-time drunk driving defendant is afforded the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction under state law. Thus, prosecutors are not giving largess when a suspended imposition of sentence results for a true first-time DWI offender. An SIS going to a multi-DWI offender is highly atypical and, even though it rarely occurs, is technically unavailable under state law. I'm a St. Charles DWI lawyer, and I can say St. Charles prosecutors don't give away guilty pleas for multiple offenders.
So the real query and story here is: 1) are law enforcement agencies filing their mandatory alcohol-related traffic stop reports with DOR after each DWI arrest and 2) if those jurisdictions are reporting to DOR, aren't those multi-DWI suspects likely not to be licensed to drive anyway, so 3) are those jurisdictions filing charges against motorists for driving while their licenses are revoked (likely stemming from administrative sanctions re: the repeat DWI arrests)?
Thus, the foray of the Post-Dispatch report seems to be a call for DWI reform in Missouri. Really, the newspaper's focus on a few sweetheart deals belies the reality and puts undue scrutiny on a legal makeup that is quite strict in dealing with DWI. DOR's attention to driving while suspended or revoked seems to be the area of need for that agency's attention.
Bryan C. Edwards is a St. Charles DWI Lawyer and practices criminal defense law across the St. Louis metro area, including St. Charles County, St. Louis City and St. Louis County with a consortium of attorneys around the state of Missouri at www.showmelawyergroup.com.