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Comparing Missouri’s DWI laws to other states

This week, Abc 17 News reported the man convicted in a 2007 deadly drunk-driving crash that killed two people outside Jefferson City also pleaded guilty to a separate alcohol-related crime years before.

Abc 17 News has reported a judge reduced Larry Welch’s sentence from 20 years to seven years. And he could be released from prison as soon as next week.

But despite Welch’s previous conviction, he is not being considered a prior offender.

Under Missouri law, a person is only considered a prior offender if their second alcohol-related offense is within five years. Welch’s second offense was seven years after his first.

In Missouri, a person does not receive a felony for driving while intoxicated until their third alcohol-related offense.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates one-third of first time drunk drivers repeat their offenses. But only four states consider a second DWI conviction a felony. And the second offense must fall within a certain time period after the first.

On the opposite end, five states do not have any felony DWI laws, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“It’s kind of surprising that there are places out there that have the ability for someone to never face a felony charge, even if they totally disregard the DWI statutes,” Sgt. Brian Leer with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department said.

In Missouri, a person’s first DWI is a Class B misdemeanor. That is even less severe than littering.

“That’s something that’s ironic, I find ironic anyway, is that throwing a beer can out the window, littering, is a higher offense than first time DWI,” Leer said. “Which I think we would all agree, it’s much more dangerous to drive impaired on the roadway endangering everyone else’s lives and the driver’s life as opposed to driving and throwing a beer can out the window.”

In a recent report, MADD found there were more than two million drivers who are three-time or more DWI offenders in the country in 2008. And around half a million were five-time offenders or more. The Boone County Sheriff’s Department said it regularly stops drivers who are repeat DWI offenders.

“Fairly often they run across folks who fall into the prior and persistent category,” Leer said. “And occasionally we run into the chronic offenders. It’s not unheard of, even here in Boone County, to see people with five, six, seven, eight prior DWIs.”

Under Missouri law, the punishment for a third-time DWI offender can be a prison sentence of up to four years. If they get another DWI, they could face up to seven years. And if they get a fifth, they could face five to 15 years, the equivalent of voluntary manslaughter.

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