Felony DWI: Analyzing Proof Requirements in Habitual Offender Cases

State of MO v. Shepherd, No. SC99081

In examining what prior offenses qualify under Missouri’s specific DWI laws, the court in this case sets a precedent on the evaluation of out-of-state convictions in determining habitual offender status. The Defendant’s appeal, challenging the reliance on his Colorado driving record without detailed facts, led to a vacated sentence and a call for resentencing.

The case involves Timothy A. Shepherd, who appealed his conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Missouri, where he was sentenced as a habitual offender. Shepherd contested that the state did not adequately prove he was a habitual offender because it relied solely on a certified copy of his Colorado driving record. This record outlined seven prior convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, but did not provide detailed facts about those convictions to confirm they would qualify as intoxication-related traffic offenses (IRTOs) under Missouri law at the time of his current offense.

The Supreme Court of Missouri vacated the circuit court’s judgment and remanded the case for resentencing, agreeing with Shepherd. The Court concluded that the state’s evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Shepherd was a habitual offender under Missouri law. Specifically, the Court noted the definitions of “driving” and IRTOs in Missouri law at the time of Shepherd’s offense required the conduct involved in prior convictions to qualify as “driving while intoxicated” or similar offenses under Missouri law, not just under the statutes of other states like Colorado. The Court found that the Colorado statutes under which Shepherd was convicted did not distinguish between “driving” a vehicle and merely being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle while under the influence, which does not meet the Missouri definition of driving for IRTO purposes.

The decision highlighted the importance of the state proving that out-of-state convictions involved conduct that qualifies as IRTOs under the specific definitions in Missouri law at the time of the current offense. Since the evidence did not establish this, Shepherd’s sentence as a habitual offender was vacated, and the case was sent back for resentencing without the habitual offender enhancement.