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Missouri DWI Laws

Missouri law concerning traffic violations involving alcohol and drugs are governed by two separate statutes; Driving while intoxicated, or “DWI” and Driving with excessive blood alcohol content, or “BAC”.  A  DWI is a crime which requires that a person was in an intoxicated or a drugged condition during the operation of a motor vehicle.  A DWI refers to an intoxication that could be from alcohol, drugs, inhalants, prescription drugs or a combination of anything thereof.  Driving with excessive alcohol content is essentially a drunk driving charge.  It is possible for a person to be charged with both of these crimes at once.

Under most circumstances, DWI’s and Driving with excessive blood alcohol content offenses are misdemeanors.  However, there are some circumstances in which felony charges are brought in cases where an offender has had past convictions of intoxication-related traffic offenses or in situations which the offender had a past intoxication-related conviction with additional felony convictions.  These felony DWI’s charges are referred to chronic, persistent, or aggravated offenders and receive stricter sentencing, including mandatory jail time.

One can be arrested only during a legal stop.  A law enforcement officer in Missouri can pull a motor vehicle over if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a motorist was driving or in operation of a motor vehicle while in a drugged or intoxicated condition.  First, this must be witnessed by an officer of the jurisdiction.  Reasonable grounds means that this must be must be supported by the facts of the circumstances.  Officers usually stop vehicles on suspicion of DWI/BAC by observational evidence such as seeing the motor vehicle in motion.  This is usually observed by things such as the vehicle driving erratically fast, usually slow, crossing over lanes, or saddening stopping and going for no reason.  Other times an officer might observe the intoxicated driver during a designated traffic stop.

After a law enforcement officer pulls over a suspect vehicle, they will usually first look at the driver and make a quick observational and behavior test of the person that was driving or in control of the vehicle.  These behavior factors will include whether or not the driver has certain characteristic traits of someone who is intoxicated.  These observations may include: slurred speech, blood-shot eyes inability to concentrate, alcohol on the person’s breath, giggling or laughing out of context, motion impairment, whether or not the person can maintain consciousness, and the ability to answer questions and hold a normal conversation.

Based on the observational and behavioral tests, the officer may ask the driver to step out of the vehicle and submit to a field sobriety test, and then a preliminary breath test.  Neither test are required for a DUI arrest or conviction, however, any failed test may be used as evidence against someone later at trial.

The field sobriety tests most commonly administered in the state are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, in which the driver is required to follow a moving penlight or a finger with their eyes, the One Leg Stand Test, and the Walk and Turn Test.   These three tests are the sobriety tests recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and are thus considered by many as the most “reliable.”  However, sobriety tests have been much scrutinized, especially the one leg stand test, which critics say takes the balance of a ballerina to pass.Generally, a preliminary breath test will be administered after failed sobriety tests. If, in view of the results of all these tests, the officer finds probable cause that the person was intoxicated, then an arrest will take place.


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