Lawmakers in Missouri are working on an overhaul of the state's criminal code that would modify the state's sentencing laws and change the classification structure for some felonies and misdemeanors. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have signed off on the bill after extended negotiation, and it is now awaiting approval from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. If passed, the new law would take effect on January 1, 2017.

Proposal may bring changes to Missouri DWI law

The state's DWI laws would be affected in a number of ways if the bill becomes law. One change would involve the designation of "habitual offenders" for certain people convicted of multiple impaired driving offenses. Habitual offenders would include drivers convicted of any of the following on separate occasions:

  • Five or more intoxicated driving offenses
  • Four or more intoxicated driving offenses if at least one offense involved the death or injury of another person
  • Three intoxicated driving offenses if at least two of the offenses involved the injury or death of another person

Missouri drivers classified as habitual offenders under the new law would be subject to steeper penalties for repeat DWI convictions than other individuals. The bill would also expand the definition of boating while intoxicated by making it applicable to all waterways in the state.

New classes for felonies and misdemeanors

Another major component of the recent legislation is a proposed restructuring of the way the state classifies some felonies and misdemeanors, as well as the sentencing laws that correspond to those classifications. The bill would create a new class of misdemeanor called Class D, as well as a new class of felony called Class E.

Current Missouri law provides that the prison sentence for conviction of a Class C felony will be no more than seven years. The pending bill would change that to require a prison term of three to 10 years. Similarly, the maximum prison term for a Class D felony — including felony DWI — would be increased from four years to seven years.

Bill would relax penalties for in some areas

The proposed changes to the Missouri criminal code have often been characterized as cracking down on people convicted of certain crimes. However, there are also a few ways in which the bill would actually relax the penalties for convicted individuals.

For instance, the legislation would modify the state's DWI ignition interlock law to remove the requirement that the devices be equipped with GPS. Another provision of the bill would reduce the penalty imposed for first-time possession of marijuana convictions in cases involving 10 grams or less of the drug. Under the new law, such an offense would be classified as a Class D misdemeanor rather than a Class A misdemeanor. People convicted under the measure would be required to pay a fine but would not be subject to jail time.

Get legal help if facing criminal charges in Missouri

If you or a member of your family is arrested for impaired driving or in Missouri, be sure to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your situation. An attorney with in-depth knowledge of Missouri DWI law can be a powerful ally who will fight to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf at every stage of the process.

Travis Noble is a graduate of the National College for DUI Defense at Harvard University, and he lectures at seminars nationwide on DWI/DUI topics. He is the lawyer whom other lawyers consult to defend their DWI clients. Most importantly, he has a track record of successfully defending some of the toughest DWI cases in Missouri and beyond.

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