Understanding Missouri DWI Cases
The Initial Stop
An officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over. This can be for any traffic violation, not necessarily for suspected drunk driving. Reasonable suspicion generally means that an officer has articulable reasons to suspect that criminal activity is afoot. In the context of DWI stops, these reasons can include, but are not limited to:
- Erratic Driving: Swerving, tailgating, excessive speed, or driving too slowly can give an officer reasonable suspicion to pull a vehicle over.
- Traffic Violations: Committing any traffic offense (e.g., running a red light, not stopping at a stop sign, etc.) provides reasonable suspicion for a stop.
- Equipment Violations: Issues like a broken tail light, expired tags, or an obstructed license plate can also serve as a basis for a stop.
- Anonymous Tips: In some instances, an anonymous tip can establish reasonable suspicion, although the tip generally must be corroborated in some way.
- Public Reporting: Calls from other drivers or observations from other officers can be considered valid forms of reasonable suspicion if properly corroborated.
- Specific Local Ordinances or State Laws: Sometimes more minor infractions related to road usage or vehicle condition can suffice for a stop.
The Court will look at the totality of the circumstances to decide whether reasonable suspicion existed. In Missouri, as in other states, case law often centers on whether an officer’s actions were reasonable given the circumstances they were facing at the time of the stop. Courts consider factors such as:
- Officer Experience: Experienced officers might be given more latitude in interpreting behavior as suspicious.
- Context: The time of day, the location, and the behavior of the suspect can all factor into whether a stop is deemed reasonable.
- Corroboration: Any additional facts or circumstances that corroborate the officer’s initial suspicion may be taken into account.
Once the traffic stop has been initiated, the officer will approach the vehicle and ask for license and proof of insurance. The officer will use this interaction to observe you for signs of impairment.
Officers will generally use the following observations against you:
- Odor of Alcohol: The smell of alcohol coming from your vehicle or your breath.
- Slurred Speech: Incoherent, mumbled, or slurred speech can be an indicator of impairment.
- Glassy or Bloodshot Eyes: The appearance of your eyes can sometimes be a sign of intoxication.
- Fumbling or Coordination Issues: If you have trouble retrieving your license, registration, or insurance, or if you drop items, this might indicate impairment.
- Admission of Drinking: If you admit to consuming alcohol or taking drugs, this can be used as a basis for administering FSTs.
- Erratic Driving: Swerving, weaving, tailgating, and other erratic behaviors observed before the stop.
- Reaction to Police Presence: Overreactions to the sight of a police vehicle, such as sudden braking or inappropriate lane changes.
- Facial Expressions and General Demeanor: An officer may take into account your facial expressions, attitude, or other nonverbal cues that might indicate impairment.
If the officer suspects that you may be intoxicated, they may ask you to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs), such as the walk and turn (WAT), the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN), or standing on one leg (OLS). Some officers may use a preliminary breath test (PBT) to determine if there is a likelihood of intoxication. This is generally optional and may not be admissible in court for a conviction, but it could provide probable cause for arrest.
Probable Cause and Arrest: If the officer has probable cause to believe that the driver is intoxicated, they will make an arrest for DWI. The driver will be handcuffed and read their Miranda rights.
Chemical Test: After the arrest, you will generally be given a more accurate chemical test (usually a breath or blood test) at the police station. Under Missouri’s implied consent law, refusal to take this test can result in the automatic suspension of your driver’s license.
The Implied Consent Law essentially provides that by obtaining a driver’s license and operating a vehicle on Missouri’s roads, you are implicitly agreeing to submit to chemical testing if arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) or under the influence of drugs.
Implied Consent Procedure:
- Arrest for DWI: Law enforcement must first have “probable cause” to arrest a driver for DWI. Probable cause can come from observations, field sobriety tests, or other evidence indicating impairment.
- Informing the Driver: Once arrested, the officer is generally required to inform the driver of the implied consent law and what it entails. This may include informing the driver that refusal to submit to testing may result in license suspension and could be used as evidence in a court proceeding.
- Chemical Testing: The chemical tests used can be a breath test, blood test, or sometimes a urine test to determine the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or the presence of drugs. In Missouri, the most common test is the breath test, generally administered using a machine at the police station.
- Right to Refuse: A driver has the right to refuse to submit to chemical testing, but this comes with consequences such as license suspension. Additionally, refusal can also be used as evidence of guilt in a DWI case.
Consequences for Refusal
- License Suspension: If a driver refuses to take the test, Missouri law generally mandates automatic suspension of the driver’s license for a specified period, which could be one year for a first-time refusal.
- Petition for Review: You may be able to file a petition for judicial review of the license suspension.
- Ignition Interlock Device: In some circumstances, you may be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle as a condition for reinstating driving privileges after suspension.
- Evidence in Court: Refusal to submit can also be used as evidence against you in a DWI criminal case.
- “No Refusal” Initiatives: In some cases, law enforcement may seek a court order to forcibly obtain a blood sample if you refuse testing. However, this process varies and may not be universally applied.
Dual Criminal and Civil Cases
In Missouri the legal process following a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) arrest often involves two separate but related legal proceedings: the criminal case and an administrative, or civil, proceeding. It’s important to know about each of these proceedings:
Criminal DWI Case
- Jurisdiction: Handled in a criminal court. Exactly which court takes jurisdiction depends on several factors. Generally speaking, DWI citations issued under local municipal code will end up in municipal court, while DWI citations issued under state statute will be under the jurisdiction of the circuit court in the county in which you were arrested.
- Purpose: The purpose of the criminal proceeding is to determine your guilt or innocence regarding charges of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
- Burden of Proof: The prosecutor, regardless of which court you’re in, will have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you were driving while intoxicated.
- Consequences: If convicted, possible penalties include fines, jail time, community service, and mandatory alcohol education or treatment programs. A conviction will also result in a criminal record.
- Legal Rights: In the criminal case, you have various constitutional rights, including: the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to a jury trial.
Administrative Case — Petition for Review
- Jurisdiction: In refusal cases, your Petition for Review (PFR) is filed in the civil court in the county in which the DWI stop occurred.
- Purpose: The issue is whether your driver’s license should be suspended or revoked based on your refusal to submit to chemical testing under Missouri’s implied consent laws.
- Burden of Proof: The standard of proof is different than in criminal cases. As Petitioner, you bear the burden of proof. It is possible to win the Petition for Review on any one of several issues. If you prove the arresting officer did not have probable cause to stop or arrest you or if you prove that the implied consent legal procedures were not followed by the officer, the Petition for Review will be granted and you will get your license back.
- Consequences: If you lose your Petition for Review, the suspension or revocation of your driving privileges becomes effective.
- Legal Rights: The civil administrative proceeding is more limited in scope, and the rights you have are generally fewer than in a criminal case. For example, you do not have the right to a public defender or a jury trial.
It’s Important to Know
- Different Standards of Proof: The state does not need to prove you were intoxicated “beyond a reasonable doubt” to suspend your license administratively. The two cases operate independently, and one does not necessarily affect the other.
- Different Consequences: A criminal conviction can result in a criminal record, jail time, and other significant penalties, while the administrative proceeding focuses solely on your driving privileges.
- Different Laws and Regulations: Criminal cases are often based on statutes defining crimes and penalties, while administrative proceedings are usually based on state regulations concerning driving privileges.
- Different Legal Rights: The rights you have and the procedures followed in criminal and administrative cases are not the same.