Gov. Nixon calls for changing DWI laws by spring

Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Gov. Jay Nixon listens to a reporter's question during a news conference to announce a new water quality enforcement effort for the Lake of the Ozarks Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, near Osage Beach, Mo. Nixon's plan involves inspections of facilities with waste-water permits, stepped up enforcement against those violating clean water policies, tough reviews of applications for new permits and a lake-wide water quality study.(AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

ST. LOUIS -- Gov. Jay Nixon has called for reforming Missouri's DWI laws in response to news accounts exposing deals that allow drunken drivers to avoid conviction.

Nixon said he will ask legislative leaders this week to change the state's laws on DWI by spring, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday.

He and others called for reforms in response to a story Sunday in the Post-Dispatch that revealed a culture of deal-cutting in St. Louis-area courts handling DWI cases.

The newspaper reported that some repeat offenders are among those avoiding conviction for DWI or related charges.

Nixon said the system "is allowing offenders to get driving privileges back and not to be held accountable for their actions."

State Rep. Walt Bivins, R-St. Louis County, said it appeared DWIs are "just kind of written off and glossed over."

"If the governor has some good suggestions, I would certainly be willing to take a look."

The newspaper reported that drivers with prior convictions are treated as though they are first-time offenders. It also said plea deals are used even for those with repeat arrests. The newspaper reported last month that repeat offenders often are not charged with a felony.

Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, a member of a House appropriations committee for public safety, said the system needs to be less willing to plea bargain and more inclined to give offenders consequences.

Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for Mayor Francis Slay, suggested that all DWI cases, or those involving repeat offenders, should be heard in state court, which hands out tougher penalties. He also suggested mandatory sentences.

Mike Boland, of the Gateway chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the system lacks incentives to change behavior.

"People drive drunk because they can," he said. "There is no intent to do the right thing because you know you can get away with it. The story was very disheartening if you've been beating this path for 15 years."

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