Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time to Strengthen DWI Laws & Expand DWI Courts

On Wednesday I filed SB836, legislation to combat repeat drunk driving. The bill closes a loophole that allows multiple convictions without a central reporting mechanism, it institutes harsher penalties based upon the level of intoxication, it mandates minimum jail sentences for offenders, and it provides courts the authority to establish a DWI Court for offenders with alcohol problems similar to the Drug Courts now in operation.

For too long our system has let offenders slip through the cracks. SB836 will stop that. Under my legislation, repeat offenders would automatically go to state court where their offenses would be recorded into the statewide system. The bill also mandates minimum jail sentences: a person convicted of a .15 blood alcohol content (BAC) would serve 48 hours in jail; those convicted of a BAC above .20 would serve five days in jail. The bill also limits the use of Suspended Imposition of Sentence, a common tactic to avoid a record of a previous DWI conviction. Prior offenders would receive 10 days in jail and persistent offenders’ jail time would be increased from 10 to 30 days.

We want drunk drivers to know that Missouri will not tolerate putting the rest of us at risk. For too long we have debated slight changes in BAC, flirted with interlock devices and left the punishment for a refusal to submit to a BAC test equivalent to the punishment for a second DWI.

This bill extends the loss of driving privileges from one year to two when a suspect refuses to submit to a breathalyzer.

Finally, the legislation encourages the establishment of DWI Courts. Missouri courts already are allowed to establish DWI Courts if no additional funds are spent, but this bill expands upon the concept. The bill allows for a DWI docket or court, drawing on the funding already established for Drug Courts. Similarly, the DWI Court could order treatment and testing and could go further by reinstating limited driving privileges.

The best driver is a sober driver. We cannot forget the other side of the equation – many of these repeat and high BAC drivers have a drinking problem. If the drinking problem is addressed, recidivism drops exponentially.

The DWI Court is not intended to address first-time offenders. In speaking with those in the recovery community, the reinstatement of a limited license would likely attract many of the hardcore offenders. These are the people that make the newspapers with four convictions or some astronomical BAC. The DWI Court is aimed at people with an obvious drinking problem.

Current law does not distinguish between a driver having a BAC of .09 (just above the state limit of .08) and those having a .25. The state of Missouri already has a nationally recognized model in the Greene County DWI Court. The program is self-sustaining by charging participants for the cost. Moreover, Missouri currently has nine stand-alone DWI courts and 34 other drug courts that accept DWI offenders.

In 2008, 43 DWI court participants graduated in Missouri with only a single recidivist, resulting in a recidivism rate of two percent. In Michigan, a study of that state’s DUI Courts found that traditionally sentenced DUI offenders are 19 times more likely to be re-arrested for a DWI charge that those who participated in DWI Court.

In 2007, there were 12,609 charges filed for an initial DWI arrest in Missouri, 2,397 arrests for a second DWI offense and 1,863 arrests for a third DWI (persistent offenders). Note the dramatic drop off from those arrested once for DWI and those arrested a second or third time, which suggests that hardcore impaired drivers are not deterred by punishment alone and are in need of treatment. That is why my legislation focuses on these persistent offenders.

I want safe roads at the best cost to the taxpayer. Substantial punishment mixed with an offer of recovery for serious offenders is the best and most economical option.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with increasing the penalty for serial offenders.

I do believe that the .08 limit is too low. From experience I know that having two glasses of wine with dinner will turn you into a criminal.

That makes most of us criminals in your eyes, including you and your friends!

Anonymous said...

ummm...maybe you shouldn't drive if you need to drink more?

Brent said...

I agree with the overall idea -- although like Anon 11:24, I think .08 is probably too low.

That said, I really wish that many areas in Missouri, particularly our cities, would focus a lot of energy on viable public transit to provide easier access to getting home after going out to the bars. I really think that would solve a lot of the problems if people could get home safely via transit vs dropping $40 on cab fare. I know it's a pipe dream, but it seems that it would help and is often overlooked.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you really think that this or any other law is going to stop offenders from slipping "through the cracks."

Dan said...

Good work, Jolie. It's good to see a rational approach that doesn't ignore the problems or bring about neo-prohibitionism.

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