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First DWI Charge 

When an individual is charged with driving while intoxicated in Missouri, there are usually two separate cases. Criminal charges will be filed by the prosecuting attorney of the jurisdiction in which the driver was arrested. A first offense DWI is a Class B misdemeanor in Missouri. There will also be an administrative suspension of the driver's license by the Department of Revenue. A driver has the right to contest this suspension, and depending on whether or not the driver submitted to BAC testing, the administrative case will take one of two very distinct paths.

The criminal case

A Class B Misdemeanor in Missouri can result in punishment of up to a $500 fine and can also include jail time of up to six months. While jail time is rare for a first driving while intoxicated offense, clearly, the charge should not be taken lightly. There are many challenges that can be made in a DWI case, from whether there was probable cause to arrest, to very complex arguments involving the science surrounding blood-alcohol testing.

The license case--Refused to submit to BAC testing

If, after being arrested for driving while intoxicated, a driver refuses to submit to blood-alcohol testing,  the driver's license will be suspended for one year. In most 1st DWI cases where the driver refused a breathalyzer or blood draw test, the driver will become eligible for a hardship license after 90 days.

However, a driver does have the option of challenging the one-year suspension by filing a Petition For Review in the county in which the driver was arrested for DWI. In many areas of Missouri, a DWI lawyer will be able to negotiate a deal where the suspension can be avoided. If such a deal is not available, then the only available option is to try the case to a judge. The issues in a refusal case are set out in § 302.574, RSMo.

(1) Whether the person was arrested or stopped;

(2) Whether the officer had:

(a) Reasonable grounds to believe that the person was driving a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated or drugged condition; or

(b) Reasonable grounds to believe that the person stopped, being under the age of twenty-one years, was driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of two-hundredths of one percent or more by weight; or

(c) Reasonable grounds to believe that the person stopped, being under the age of twenty-one years, was committing a violation of the traffic laws of the state, or political subdivision of the state, and such officer had reasonable grounds to believe, after making such stop, that the person had a blood alcohol content of two-hundredths of one percent or greater; and

(3) Whether the person refused to submit to the test.

Additionally, a driver can often obtain a Stay Order to prevent the suspension from taking effect while the proceedings are pending.

If you have been issued a Notice of Suspension as a result of your refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test or blood draw, contact a DWI lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer experienced in this area will be able to make life much easier for the driver, especially the case of a 1st driving while intoxicated offense. However, there are short time limits within which relief must be sought, or the suspension will become final. Do not delay seeking help with this issue.

The license case--After testing at .08% BAC or higher

In a first driving while intoxicated case where a driver tests at .08% blood-alcohol content or higher, the suspension of the driver's license will be for 90 days. If the driver obtains SR-22 insurance and an ignition interlock device, a limited driving privilege will be provided. Otherwise, after 30 days, the driver will become eligible to receive a Limited Driving Privilege for the remaining 60 days of the suspension with SR-22 insurance.

The driver may also challenge the suspension in this situation, although the issues are different from that of a refusal case as discussed above. If the driver requests a hearing in this situation, the case will be heard by a hearing officer employed by the Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR). The hearing officer will only determine whether there is probable cause to arrest the driver for an alcohol-related traffic offense and whether the driver was driving with 0.08% blood-alcohol content or more. This hearing is somewhat informal and is held either by telephone or in person in the county of arrest, although the driver does have the right to subpoena the arresting officer(s) and other witnesses relevant to the case at the hearing.

If the driver loses the administrative hearing before the DOR officer, the driver then has the right to appeal the decision in the form of a trial de novo in the circuit court of the county of arrest. At the trial de novo, a judge or court-appointed commissioner will hear all of the issues in the case without giving any weight to the determination made by the hearing officer. However, after the DOR hearing officer has made a decision to suspend the driving privileges, the suspension will go into effect 15 days after notice of the decisions, regardless of any appeal. Seeking a trial de novo will not postpone or avoid the suspension. The motivation for seeking a trial de novo relief is usually only to clear any trace of the suspension from the driver's record and to avoid the higher cost of SR-22 insurance.


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