With law enforcement and victims standing near, Gov. Jay Nixon details legislation that will overhaul the way Missouri deals with drunken-driving cases while speaking at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) affiliate office in Overland, Mo., on Dec. 9. Gov. Nixon wants to eliminate loopholes that block prosecutions, ensuring that all DWI offenses are accurately recorded and tracked.
"There are simply too many gaps in our current system," Gov. Nixon said. "The way we handle drunken-driving cases in Missouri is broken. We must take bold and decisive steps to reform the way DWI cases are dealt with. We have a duty to protect Missouri families by improving every aspect of DWI enforcement, from the traffic stops that initiate cases to the sentences handed out by judges, and even the way records of offenders are kept."
On Nov. 4, Gov. Nixon convened a DWI summit with more than 30 participants, including police chiefs, sheriffs, county and municipal prosecutors, judges, court clerks and victims' advocates. The participants detailed their experiences with Missouri's DWI system and offered suggestions to make improvements.
Today, Gov. Nixon detailed wide-ranging legislative solutions, including:
- Requiring repeat DWI offenders, drivers with a blood-alcohol level of.15 or above, and drivers who refuse to submit to a blood-alcohol test to be charged in a state court, as opposed to a municipal court, to ensure that the most rigorous standards are applied in bringing offenders to justice and tracking cases to avoid repeat offenses.
- Creating enhanced penalties for offenders with blood-alcohol levels of .15 and above. (Under Missouri law .08 is the presumed level of intoxication.)
- Making it a crime for any driver to refuse to submit to a blood-alcohol test.
- Expanding the use of ignition-interlock devices to include cases when the driver's blood-alcohol level was.15 or above or when a driver refuses to submit to a blood-alcohol test; current law limits the required use of these devices to repeat offenders.
- Eliminating the provision under current law that allows DWI offenders to have their records expunged after 10 years without another offense.
- Requiring all jurisdictions to enter DWI arrest and case information into the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Driving While Intoxicated Tracking System (DWITS) to strengthen the tracking of DWI offenders. (Grant funding could be withheld from agencies that fail to report.)
- Prohibiting a defendant from withdrawing a guilty plea for DWI when reaching the end of his probation under a suspended imposition of sentence (SIS).
These initiatives will be included in legislation that will be sponsored by Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and co-sponsored by Rep. Rachel Bringer (D-Palmyra), a former prosecutor.
"I look forward to working with Gov. Nixon and legislators to improve the safety on the highway, the accuracy of reporting DWI offenses, and the efficiency of the court system which will all result in improving the lives of Missouri citizens," Rep. Stevenson said.
"I appreciate the leadership of the Governor to address public safety issues in Missouri, and I look forward to working with Gov. Nixon and Rep. Stevenson next legislative session on ways to improve the safety of all Missourians," Rep. Bringer said.
Gov. Nixon said he is committed to working with legislators to pass these aggressive reforms to DWI laws, and he praised local stakeholders and legislators for working together to develop a quality bill that addresses the entire spectrum of problems with drunken-driving enforcement.
"Five weeks ago, I asked the Missouri Department of Public Safety to get input and ideas from the best minds in Missouri on this issue, and leaders from both parties have determined the best solution is a dramatic overhaul," Gov. Nixon said. "With these changes, we have an opportunity to better protect innocent drivers and pedestrians. There's a strong desire among members of both parties to close the gaps in our current law, provide tough consequences for offenders and make Missouri's roads safer. This legislation will do just that."