This week, St. Charles DWI attorney Todd Ryan discusses DWI enhancements that can arise in certain situations. This discussion will cover enhancements relative to the criminal portion of a DWI case. Remember, most DWI cases also entail a concurrent or correspondent administrative case (See Chemical Refusals and Administrative Alcohol Suspension). All DWI charges should be taken seriously, but certain facts can drastically increase the stakes.
Understanding Range of Punishment
One of the most common questions I get when a new case comes in is: “What’s the worst case scenario?” A first-time DWI with no aggravating factors is a class B misdemeanor that carries with it a maximum jail sentence of six months and a fine not to exceed $1,000. That means the possible sentencing on a class B misdemeanor is anywhere from no jail time to six months in jail and no fine up to a $1,000 fine or any combination thereof so long as that combination does not exceed the maximums.
Subsequent DWI charges are charged with increasing severity; and so we’ll seehere we’ll explain the range of punishment for each increase in severity as well.
Multiple DWI Charges
Assuming there are no aggravating factors, the increasing number of DWIs can charged as the following crimes:
For reference, a class B felony carries a possible term of imprisonment between five and 15 years. A class A felony enhancement is also possible in cases where a driver has a previous DWI charged as a class B felony. It is possible to receive a life sentence for a DWI charge.
In Missouri, a charge is determined based on a finding by the Court that a driver is a prior, persistent, chronic, or habitual offender. The prosecutor must plead and prove prior DWI offenses. The Missouri Courts provide a great resource that sets out the requirements of proving prior offenses in criminal cases.
The State is required to prove that:
- The defendant is the same person who was convicted or pleaded guilty in the previous case.
- The defendant was represented by counsel or had effectively waived counsel at the time of the prior conviction or plea.
- The status of the prior offense was a felony. See State v. Russ, 945 S.W.2d 633 (Mo. App. 1997). Note: An analogous procedure would apply to Section 558.016.5, RSMo, (2006) with regard to persistent misdemeanor offenders. See Prior Offender Status and Use of Prior Convictions.
A prior offense is one avenue to enhanced DWI charges. A second avenue to enhancement involves injuries that are alleged to have occurred during the commission of a DWI. Causing injury to a person is considered an aggravating factor.
A DWI can be charged as a class D felony if a driver acts with criminal negligence and causes physical injury to another person. If the driver acts with criminal negligence and causes serious physical injury to a law enforcement officer or emergency personnel, or while acting with criminal negligence, the driver causes the death of a person who is not law enforcement or considered emergency personnel, the case can be charged as a class C felony.
A class B felony enhancement is possible when a driver is alleged to have caused the death of a first responder or causes the death of person who was not a passenger in the driver’s vehicle. A class A felony enhancement is possible in cases where the driver is alleged to have committed acts permitting a class B felony charge and that driver has a previous DWI charged as a class B felony.