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New DWI law emphasizes penalties and treatment options

In June, Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill that enhances the penalties for chronic drunk drivers, but also offers alternatives to jail for some offenders. The law, which became effective in August, passed both houses unanimously before being signed by the governor in June.

Previously, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies had trouble pursuing and convicting drivers considered repeat offenders. Records from municipalities were difficult for prosecutors to obtain and many drunk drivers were not classified as repeat offenders as a result. The new law allows Department of Revenue records to be admitted as evidence of a prior drunk driving conviction. These records are easier for prosecutors to find and, consequently, easier to use against those facing second and subsequent drunk driving charges.

The law also allows courts to schedule dockets specifically for DWI cases. Supporters of the new law say this provision will speed up the court process and also offer different treatment options to certain offenders. If those accused of drunk driving complete the requirements of a DWI court, jail time can be avoided in some cases. But the law also permits drunk driving cases to be tried in state courts where the penalties typically more severe than municipal courts.

Gov. Nixon focused on passing the legislation this session after learning the difficulties prosecutors faced in convicting first-time and repeat offenders. While the law focuses on tracking repeat offenders, other controversial provisions were removed before the bill passed both houses. One such provision would have allowed police to conduct a blood draw without a warrant. Legislators have suggested this provision will be revisited in the upcoming term.

If you are facing DWI charges, it is important to work with an experienced attorney to fight the charges. The consequences include not only fines and potential jail time, but administrative penalties and suspension of driving privileges. For repeat offenders, the stakes are even higher and can result in a greater impact one one's family, job and reputation.

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