UNDERSTANDING THE ADMINISTRATIVE ACTIONS OF A DWI
Being charged with a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in Missouri not only carries serious criminal consequences, but will also have far-reaching ramifications on a clients driver’s license. Specifically, they will be facing a civil administrative action by the Department of Revenue to suspend or revoke their license entirely. This can seem like venturing into the unknown – that’s why it is important to hire an experienced DWI attorney.
At the time of arrest for a DWI/DUI and after an individual provides a breath sample greater than a .08 BAC, the arresting officer will likely seize a client’s driver’s license before issuing them a notice of suspension/revocation on behalf of the Department of Revenue (DOR). This notice acts as a 15-day temporary driving permit.
Individuals suspected of DWI are entitled to an administrative hearing, but it must be requested within 15 days of reciving notice of suspension after their DWI arrest. It is always recommended that those suspected of driving while intoxicated consult with a DWI attorney who understands the administrative process. Failure to request a hearing within 15 days from the date of the DWI/DUI arrest will result in an automatic suspension and will bar individuals from contesting the suspension. Once a hearing is requested, individuals will be legal to drive pending the formal DWI hearing.
FIGHTING THE ADMINISTRATIVE SUSPENSION
Once a hearing has been requested to contest the suspension, the hearing will be scheduled in the county of arrest by the Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue must prove three things:
- A client was driving on a public road.
- There was probable cause for arrest.
- A valid blood or breath test was conducted indicating a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.
First, it must be proven that an individual was operating a vehicle on a public road. In other words, if they were not operating the vehicle or if they were on a private road, then DOR would not be able to prove this element. This is a different standard than criminal prosecution for DWI.
Secondly, there must have been probable cause for the officer to make an arrest for driving while intoxicated. Essentially, this boils down to an officer’s determination based on his observations, a series of standardized field sobriety tests, and/or a portable breath test. The officer must be acting as a reasonable, prudent, cautious, and well-trained officer when establishing probable cause. This is an area an experienced DWI attorney will challenge often because inexperienced DWI officers will do tests incorrectly.
Thirdly, there must be a valid blood or breath test. There are several ways for an attorney to contest this since the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services maintains regulations concerning the maintenance and operation of the machines used for obtaining a BAC in a DWI investigation. If a DWI breath or blood test does not meet these strict standards for DWI investigation then the results of the test may not be admissible. An experienced DWI attorney will understand what to look for in challenging the validity of a breath test.
To illustrate, the breath test machine must be maintained every 35 days by a Missouri licensed technician, the operator who took the breath alcohol test must be properly licensed, the machine must be calibrated and within specific regulations regarding temperature, and there must be a proper 15-minute waiting period before conducting the test.
Instead of having to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, the Department of Revenue merely needs to find impairment by the preponderance of the evidence. This simply means that they must find that it is more likely than not that an individual was driving impaired. This is a low threshold of proof, but an experienced DWI attorney may be able to win on this issue.
If the DOR suspends or revokes a driver’s license after the hearing, not all hope is lost. Within fifteen days of that decision, drivers are entitled to request an appeal in the Circuit Court. At this stage, the Court will hold a de novo hearing with no deference given to the DOR decision. In this setting, there likely will be witness testimony to meet the burden of proof. Although an appeal is beneficial in some cases, keep in mind that an appeal will not stay a driver’s DWI administrative suspension – drivers must still serve their DWI suspension pending appeal.
IN THE EVENT OF SUSPENSION:
In the event of suspension, driving history plays a major role in determining the severity and length of administrative DWI revocation. If a driver has been convicted or suspended during the past five years for an alcohol-related offense like a DWI conviction, their driver’s license will be revoked for one year.
On the other hand, if a driver hasn’t had alcohol-related offenses over the last five years, then they will be facing a 90-day DWI administrative suspension. Drivers with a 90-day DWI suspension will have two options for how they can complete the 90-day suspension.
First, drivers can choose to undergo a straight 90-day suspension period with a limited driving privilege. A limited driving privilege means that you may only drive to and from certain places, such as work, school, the grocery store, etc.
In this scenario, drivers must install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. This device is a breathalyzer that requires a sample before operating your vehicle. However, if a driver blows positive for alcohol, the 90-day suspension restarts. In addition, drivers must purchase Safety Responsibility insurance, commonly referred to as SR-22.
The second option is like the straight 90-day suspension, but it does not require an ignition interlock device. Instead, this option requires drivers to complete a 30-day hard walk, meaning they may not drive at all for the first 30 days. After 30 days, drivers will conclude their suspension with 60 days of a limited driving privilege assuming they have obtained SR-22 insurance. Not having to install an interlock device is a major benefit, even if drivers give up 30 days of driving.
REINSTATING YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE
Once drivers have served the relevant DWI suspension period, they are eligible for reinstatement. The requirements for reinstatement after a first offense DWI administrative action or conviction are:
- Complete the Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program (SATOP).
- Pay a 45- or 65-dollar reinstatement fee.
- Maintain SR-22 insurance for two years from the initial date of suspension.
Once all the DWI suspension requirements are met, drivers will officially be entitled to reinstatement of their license.
Understand that this is often a frustrating and lengthy process, but our firm, Twibell Pierson Criminal Law, can relieve the fear of the unknown and put those suspected of DWI on the right track. We aim to ensure clients’ constitutional rights are upheld and that they are placed in the best position to succeed after a DWI conviction. If you have any questions regarding the criminal or administrative process that accompanies a DWI/DUI, please reach out to our office, or schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced DWI attorneys. We look forward to meeting you and helping in any way we can!
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU ARE UNDER 21 – UNDERSTANDING MISSOURI’S ZERO TOLERANCE LAW
Missouri Law has adopted what is referred to as “Zero Tolerance” for drivers who are under the age of 21 and suspected of drinking and driving. This means that any driver who is under 21 with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02 or above must undergo the same DWI administrative process as a 21 year old who has a BAC over .08, the legal limit.
Further, not only will an underage driver face license suspension or revocation, but if they are also over the legal limit, then they could be charged with a DWI as well. The first offense for a Zero Tolerance Violation will result in a license suspension. However, the good news is that once a driver turns 21, these underage violations are erased from their record.
If you are below 21 and facing administrative action due to a Zero Tolerance violation, it is important you schedule a consultation with an experienced DWI/DUI attorney who specializes in this area. The attorneys at Twibell-Pierson Criminal Law have a long and established track record in successfully defending their clients against DWIs and DUIs.