Reporting of driving convictions is essential

Thursday, January 10, 2002

A recent state audit shows that more than 10 percent of Missouri's alcohol- and drug-related driving convictions aren't being reported to state agencies.

This means that some drivers found guilty of endangering the lives of others are escaping tougher laws that mandate license suspension, counseling or jail terms.

Auditors picked 20 counties across the state and found that 184 of 205 convictions were properly handled. Cape Girardeau County wasn't included in the survey. Perry County, which was included, was listed as not turning over any felony cases, even though there were two such cases during the audit period.

Drug- and alcohol-related driving convictions, tried at the circuit court level, are supposed to be referred to such agencies as the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Department of Revenue or Department of Mental Health to carry out state laws dealing with such crimes.

Still, without notification from circuit court clerks, these state agencies have no actual knowledge of the driving violations and circuit court sentences.

While we don't like seeing any such convictions go unreported, this figure of slightly over 10 percent represents progress from just a few years ago. As Missouri began tightening its illegal driving laws and enacting stiffer penalties in the 1990s, an earlier investigation of reporting practices, conducted in 1998, found that 36 percent of all such convictions hadn't been reported to state agencies. This finding helped to spur increased efforts in seeing that dangerous drivers experienced the full effects of the more stringent penalties mandated by revised statutes.

The Office of the State Courts Administrator has begun automating reports of convictions submitted by circuit clerks. According to officials in the agency, if appropriations continue at the current rate, the necessary software should be installed within about six years in all circuit courts in Missouri.

This is a rather large "if." With Missouri's current budget woes forcing discussion of substantial withholdings and spending cuts, there will be those who look to these court-automation expenditures as a place to cut. Such action would delay further the long-term solution we would all like to see.

Just another among many tough choices lawmakers face this coming year.

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