The DWI Process in Missouri. Part 1: The Calm Before the Storm.
Driving while intoxicate or driving under the influence charges are become some of the hardest criminal charges to defend against in the 21st century. Think about it, we see all the infomercials on television about not drinking and driving, the state government displays electronic road signs on the side of the highway and it’s quite possible your high school took a day out of the school day to go through a mock drunk driving accident scene. Safety of the road and safety of the general public is more important that you're night out on the town.
By the time you’ve been charged with a DWI and you're standing in front of the judge, the stack is extremely stacked against you. The thought of being convicted starts to weigh on your mind, wondering if this is going to affect the rest of your life. The quick answer to that question is, yes, it may very well affect the next decade of your time.
A Night on the Town
You’re heading out for a night with your friends. Just a fun weekend night to blow off some steam from the week long grind of the job, or maybe it’s Thirsty Thursday at the local college watering hole and you’re ready to complain about the midterm paper you waited until the last minute to write and turn in. Either situation, you’re out for a couple hours having a good time and one beer turns into a shot and four more beers.
In Missouri the BAC (blood alcohol content) limit in 0.08. This means if you have a limit of 0.08 in your blood stream, you can be charged with a DWI. Believe it or not, 0.08 is not a lot and it doesn’t take long to reach. There’s no set amount of beers and shot to recommend a person to drink and still stay under the limit. BAC is different with every single person and is based on a number of things such as weight, beer vs. liquor, time of consumption and how often you drink.
Now that you’ve had fun with your friends, the bar turns on the ugly lights and you’re forced to leave. You say your goodbyes and now you’re sitting in your car, turn the key and you’re off. Believe it or not, police officer’s know when closing time is, they also know where the bars are in their area; some might even park right down the street waiting for potential drunk driver to violate a simple traffic violation.
You’ve got the cruise control on, making sure you’re not speeding, and your hands are on ten and two just like your driving school taught you. While those two things are a great start, it doesn’t even put in a dent in what that police officer can pull you over for. Some of the most ridiculous, but legal, ways for an police officer to pull you over to check if you’re a drunk driver or not are:
1. License plate light. Yes, there’s actually a little tiny light bulb illuminating your license plate for the world to see. No one ever seems to check this because, well come on, who ever thinks of that?! This is my favorite reason for pulling a person over for the sheer fact that, if the officer needed my license plate light to be on so he can see my license plate, doesn’t that mean his headlights weren’t on? Why was he driving at night without his headlights on? Rant over, on to the next “reason.”
2. Rolling through a stop sign. We all do this, pull up to a stop sign and either no one is around or you want to beat the other cars to a stop so you can go before them.
3. Expired tags. Again, another thing we don’t think of all the time. Having an expired license plate tag is more than enough reason for the office to initiate a traffic stop.
4. Swerving between lanes. This is obviously a sign that the person driving is either intoxicated, not paying attention to the road or probably texting. Clearly enough reason for the officer to pull the driver over.
5. Swerving within your own lane. This is another one I love just as much as the old “license plate light bulb” stop. Yes you read the title correct, we’re talking about still being in your own lane but staying within the lane itself, and still being pulled over. During law school I worked for the college towns’ public defender office. I loved arguing the validity of these types of stops. Courts go both ways on this issue, allowing the stop and not allowing the stop. There are a plethora of factors that come into play with this type of stop, but more than likely, the court is going to allow the officer to stop this driver for a possible driving while intoxicated traffic stop.
6. Improper lane change. This is another tricky one we all forget about, the improper lane change. According to the law, when making a turn onto a road you must stay in the closet lane on the side you’re making the turn. For example, say you’re in the right hand lane about to make a right hand turn. While turning onto the new road, you are required to stay in that first lane on the far right while making your turn. Sounds like a legitimate reason if there are oncoming cars coming down the same road you’re about to turn onto, but what if the road is empty? Nope, still have to stay in that first immediate lane while making the turn or, technically, you’ve violated the traffic law.
All an officer needs is a minor traffic violation to make a traffic stop. Even though we all know the office doesn’t care about the traffic stop and they’re really checking to see if you’re under the influence, it’s still a legal stop as long as they have probable cause to make the initial stop.
You’re driving down the road and the next thing you know, you see the red and blue lights flashing in your rear view mirror and there’s a blinding spotlight shinning on your side mirror blinding you. Pull over onto the side of the road and put the car in park. Your heart is racing, your blood is pumping and you’ve just got a big shot of adrenaline running through your veins. Now what?
You’ve been pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. What do you do, what do you say, what do you agree to and what do you refuse to do? Stay tuned for the second part of this series, Part 2: The DWI Stop.
For immediate help, guidance or advice, contact Howard Law at (314) 325-9868.
About The Author
Evan M. Howard is the managing attorney for Howard Law, a St. Louis business law and criminal defense law firm based in Clayton, Missouri. Focused on giving honest, quick and effective representation to all its clients. With a background in business and experience dealing with tough criminal prosecution cases, Howard Law is prepared to help guide you through your legal matter.