What is the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

Under Missouri law, there is no real difference between DUI, or driving under the influence, and DWI, or driving while intoxicated. While some states make them separate crimes with different standards of proof, Missouri law generally refers to related offenses collectively as DWI. This offense occurs when individuals operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater, driving while intoxicated, or driving with any amount of an intoxicating substance in their systems. These substances can include controlled substances, prescriptions medicines, or even over-the-counter medicines in some circumstances.

DWI, whether it involves alcohol or drugs, normally is a Class B misdemeanor under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 577.010, which can result in a six-month jail sentence. However, certain aggravating factors can cause a DWI offense to result in a Class A misdemeanor or a felony charge. For example, the offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor if the accused has a prior DWI conviction or if the accused had a passenger under the age of 17 in the vehicle at the time of the offense; a conviction on a Class A misdemeanor can result in up to one year in jail. As the number of prior convictions increase, or if the offense resulted in bodily injury or death to another, the levels of the felony offenses, along with the potential penalties, increase, as well.

There also are administrative consequences of a DWI arrest through the Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR). Driving with an excessive BAC will result in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license for 90 days; this period of administrative suspension will last for one year if you refuse to take a blood or breath test to measure BAC. These administrative penalties also increase as you accrue more DWI convictions on your record. When you are charged with any type of DWI or alcohol-related offense, you will need an experienced DWI defense attorney to represent your interests from the very beginning of your case. We are here to look at the facts of your case, explore your options, and build the strongest defense possible on your behalf. Contact the Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center at Benjamin Law Firm, LLC, at (816) 322-8008 and set up an appointment to speak with us today.

When Does a DWI Become a Felony Under Missouri Law?

Although many DWIs, especially for first-time offenders, are charged as misdemeanors, a DWI charge can become a felony under some circumstances. For instance, a third or subsequent DWI charge is a felony. This means that if you have had at least two prior convictions for DWI or any intoxication-related offense, whether in Missouri or another state, you could be facing a felony DWI charge. You also can face felony DWI charges if you qualify as a “persistent,” “aggravated,” “chronic”, or “habitual” offender. These statuses depend on your history of not only alcohol-related offenses, but also certain other criminal offenses that were committed within a certain time period.

A third DWI normally classifies you as a “persistent offender.” This status can result in a Class E felony charge, which can result in a prison sentence of up to four years. For a fourth DWI, you may be adjudged to be a “aggravated offender,” which causes the charge to increase to a Class D felony. A conviction on a Class D felony offense can result in a prison sentence ranging from four to seven years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. For a “chronic offender,” or one who has four prior offenses, the charge is a Class C felony, which carries a potential prison sentence of three to ten years.  These charges also may increase if one or more of the prior offenses resulted in injury or death to others.

Another situation in which a DWI may result in felony charges is if the DWI results in serious bodily injury or death to others. A DWI that causes one or more deaths is a Class C felony offense, as is a DWI that causes serious bodily injury to law enforcement officers or emergency medical personnel. It is a Class D felony offense if a DWI results in physical injury to law enforcement or emergency personnel or serious physical injury to any other person. Similarly, it is a Class E felony if a DWI results in any physical injury to any person. At Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center, we offer you client-focused representation throughout your criminal proceedings related to medical marijuana usage. As the law in this area continues to develop, we are dedicated to protecting your rights. When you need help that only an experienced criminal defense attorney can offer you, contact Benjamin Law Firm, LLC, at (816) 322-8008 or fill out the online information form located here.

Can the Police Search My Car if They Don’t Have a Warrant?

There are some circumstances under which the police can search your car, even without a warrant. First, if you consent to the search, the police can legally search your vehicle. However, you are never required to consent to a search, so you generally should not do so. Nonetheless, you should keep in mind that you do not have the right to physically resist or attempt to prevent police officers from searching your vehicle. In certain circumstances, police officers can still search your vehicle without your consent, as detailed below.

Next, the police must have “probable cause” in order to search your car without a warrant. If a police officer has probable cause to believe that your vehicle contains contraband or other evidence related to a criminal offense, he or she can search your vehicle. Probable cause can stem from the police officer’s observations that you are nervous or otherwise acting suspiciously, that there is an odor of marijuana or alcohol coming from your vehicle, or that there is alcohol, drugs, or other contraband located in plain sight inside your vehicle. If a drug-sniffing dog “alerts” on your vehicle, police officers also have probable cause to search your vehicle.

Furthermore, if you are arrested during a traffic stop, either because there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest or because there is probable cause that you have committed a crime, a police officer has the right to search your car incident to your arrest in some cases. This type of search typically is limited to the immediate area in which you were seated in the vehicle, in order to prevent you from grabbing a weapon or destroying contraband or evidence related to a criminal offense.

Additionally, if you are arrested and the police officer decides to have your vehicle towed and impounded, police officers can conduct an “inventory” search of your vehicle. This allows police to itemize and retain any items in your vehicle that might be related to criminal activity. The Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center of Benjamin Law Firm, LLC, is a law firm focusing on DWI and traffic violations,  as well as expungements. When you need results, contact us at (816) 322-8008 or fill out the online information form located here.