Revisions to Missouri’s criminal code may impact DWI charges

Recently, Governor Jay Nixon signed Missouri Senate Bill 491, which is legislation aimed at revising the state's current criminal code. While the changes outlined in the bill are not set to take effect until 2017 - unless, of course, lawmakers take additional action before then - some of the modifications are significant, particularly in the area of DWI law.

Indeed, if the changes go into effect without further amendment, offenders with multiple DWI convictions in Missouri may face less severe charges going forward. For instance, under current Missouri law, an individual with two prior DWI convictions - otherwise known as a "persistent offender" - faces a Class D felony conviction if ultimately charged with another DWI. However, under the language of SB 491, a third DWI conviction will be downgraded to a Class E felony.

Similarly, under the new legislation:

  • "Aggravated offenders" - those with three prior DWI convictions - will face a Class D felony for a subsequent DWI conviction, a reduction from current law that calls for a Class C felony
  • "Chronic offenders" - those with four prior DWI convictions - will face a Class C felony for a subsequent DWI conviction, a reduction from current law that calls for a Class B felony

Interestingly, the bill does not alter the criminal charges for first-time DWI offenders or those with a second conviction within five years. In fact, these offenders will continue to be charged with Class B and A misdemeanors, respectively.

However, it is very important to note that just because the charges faced by many of those with multiple DWI convictions have been reduced, that does not necessarily mean their punishment under Missouri law will become more lenient. Indeed, depending on the circumstances, it is quite possible that potential fines and jail time will actually increase for some offenders under the language of the bill, even taking into account the downgraded charges.

Additionally, many of the recently passed amendments may be all for naught, especially considering they do not take effect for several years, not to mention that another bill currently making its way through the legislature - HB 1371 - may also negate many of the changes.

If anything, all of these modifications to Missouri DWI law merely demonstrate the need to contact an experienced DWI defense attorney if ultimately changed with drunk driving. A knowledgeable attorney will not only be aware of all recent amendments to the law but will be able to help fully explain your rights given these changes.