Justin M. Crozier
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A DWI IN MISSOURI
You were out tonight, either at a party or with some friends at the local bar. You had a few drinks, maybe 3 or 4, maybe 7 or 8. But, you felt alright to drive and.... whether should have or not you decided to grab your keys and get into the car.
As you're driving down the road you see some red and blue lights flash from behind you and your stomach drops. You know you might be over the legal limit. You think, I should have just gotten a cab or maybe taken up the offer for a ride home... but, here you are.
Maybe you only had 1 drink but you've never been in trouble with the law before and don't know if that is going to put you over the limit, so you just refuse to blow in the breathalyzer.
Either way, now you have been charged with a DWI/DUI and you have no idea what is about to happen to you. Is this going to ruin your life? Are you going to be forever looked at as an alcoholic? Are you going to be in jail? Will your family look down on you and hate you because of this single mistake?
Well, I can't answer all of your questions with whats going to happen. However, I can tell you what you can expect from your first time DWI/DUI as far as the law goes.
Well, right off the bat you have probably been taken into custody (I know you probably aren't reading this in jail, but I'm trying to give you some pointers... so bear with me). The officer threw some cuffs on you and put you in a little cell and you are panicking!! What do you do now?
Well, you there are a couple of ways that you can get out of these circumstances. You can either pay bond, get a bondsman, or you can get out on your signature (maybe).
Just for reference, a bond is basically a promise to go to Court. If you go to Court and everything gets finished up then you get the money back because you kept your promise! How nice of you.
If you get a bondsman, they pay the bond for you and you pay them a little money to do it. If you don't go to Court the bondsman comes to get you and makes you go to Court. When the case is over then the Bondsman gets the money back and they get to keep the money you paid them.
If you spend a few nights in jail (or get an attorney) then you might get out on a signature bond, which is you just saying you will do it and the Court says they trust you enough to believe you will do it.
THE NEXT 15 DAYS
When you were arrested the cops took your driver's license from you. You were given a little piece of paper that says you can drive for a few days. If you don't do anything else then you are going to lose your license for at least 30 days, and maybe for a year. If you hire an attorney they can file a motion to let you have a license for a little more time or let you keep you from losing it altogether. If you don't do that then you may have to get a hardship license to be able to drive at all.
The first Court date you have is called an Arraignment. This is where the Court tells you what you have been charged with and that you might go to Jail if you don't get an attorney. You are not going to go to trial the first time you go to Court. They will just tell you what the next thing is. So, don't worry if you don't have an attorney yet (unless you wanted to keep from losing your license, as I mentioned earlier). You will get the next date set, or you will be getting ready for trial. Oh, don't say "Guilty" at this point. Even if you intend to plead guilty later, don't do it now. Just say "Not Guilty" and then find yourself a lawyer.
PLEA OR TRIAL
After your arraignment you have 2 basic options, either take a plea bargain or you can go to trial (if you get an attorney, you won't get the option of a plea bargain if you go by yourself).
PLEA: Most plea bargains for a first time DWI are pretty similar no matter where you are in Missouri. You will probably be put on SIS Probation. SIS means "Suspended Imposition of Sentence." Put more plainly, that means that after you finish probation they dismiss the charge and it won't be on your permanent record. Normally you will not be supervised, you just have to stay out of trouble. You will probably pay a fine between $100-$500, though there have been some recent changes in law that COULD increase that fine. You will probably have to take a substance abuse class called SATOP. It will probably be a weekend class and you will have to pay for the class. You will need to take a class that tells you about what happens to Victims of Drunk Driving called VIP. You will also not be allowed to have any alcohol in your system when you are driving, you have a 0.0 legal limit. If you violate any of these rules then you will get locked up and you will have the charge on your record.
TRIAL: Trial is really something you want to talk to your attorney about before you decide to do it. They will want to look at the police report, they will want to get an idea of whether they win the case if they actually go to trial. They will need to see if the police made a mistake at some point in the process, did they not read you Miranda Right's, did they have probable cause to pull you over, did they properly conduct the search. If the police did something wrong then it might be worth it to go to trial. Of course there are always risks in going to trial.. primarily that you could be found guilty and go to jail. You will want to talk with your attorney about whether trial makes sense for you. With most plea bargains being pretty good (in that you won't have a criminal record) you need to be pretty certain if you are going to go to trial.
We all know that driving while being intoxicated is a bad idea. It isn't safe, people could be hurt, and the consequences can be truly horrifying if things go wrong. That said, as people we all make mistakes. Just because you goofed up one night does not mean you are a bad person and it doesn't mean that you are an alcoholic. It just means you had a bad night. Getting a DWI or a DUI can be very expensive but ultimately it is just a lesson that you can take in life. And you can learn from it, learn not to make the same mistake again, and then move on in life without looking back.
When everything is done, if your attorney has done their job, you should have your license back in your hand, you should not have a criminal record, and you only have to spend a few years making sure you stay down the straight and narrow while you finish up your probation.
Of course the advice and information above doesn't mean I am your lawyer... I mean I CAN be, but I'm not yet. Also, this may not apply to you completely. If this isn't your first DWI or DUI, or if someone was hurt or property was damaged, or if you were driving with other people in the car, then you might have a different experience. And, of course, I cannot guarantee results in the criminal justice system, laws change and prosecutors or judges will make a very big difference in what you experience.
If you have any questions about your experience you can contact me directly or you can post it in the comments below. Contact me if you need anything, and I am happy to help you out.
Good luck out there.