New DWI bill can draw blood without warrant

| Contributing Reporter

In 2009, there were more than 900 fatalities in Missouri due to alcohol-related vehicular accidents. If the State Legislature passes a new driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) bill, students will be forced to think twice before convincing themselves that they are sober enough to drive after a few drinks on a Friday night.

If the bill is passed, the police will have authority to seize blood samples from suspected drunken drivers without a warrant.

Approved by the Missouri House earlier this month, the new bill calls for a drastic overhaul in the way intoxicated drivers are punished and repeat offenders are tracked. Drunk-driving cases will be judged with more severe consequences and in state courts instead of municipal courts.

Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Joplin, the bill’s sponsor, believes that the current laws are insufficient and deadly. He hopes that if the bill is passed, the harsher consequences will encourage more problematic drinkers to seek treatment.

The bill is the product of a 2009 Post Dispatch investigation that found that St. Louis-area police, prosecutors and judges fail to adequately punish drunken drivers. After the investigation concluded, Gov. Jay Nixon called for dramatic changes to a broken system.

“There are simply too many gaps in our current system,” Nixon said in a statement in December. “The way we handle drunken-driving cases in Missouri is broken. We must take bold and decisive steps to reform the way DWI cases are dealt with. We have a duty to protect Missouri families by improving every aspect of DWI enforcement, from the traffic stops that initiate cases to the sentences handed out by judges and even the way records of offenders are kept.”

Among other measures, the bill requires drivers with blood alcohol levels of at least .15 to spend 48 hours in jail and of at least .20 to spend at least five days in jail.

Also, all municipal judges are required to complete courses on state drunk-driving laws and adopt written policies for their courts to report all DWI case dispositions to a central databank.

Moreover, the driver’s license revocation period will increase from one to two years for a person who refuses to submit to any blood-alcohol test. Despite the augmented severity in punishment, there is one bright ray of hope: a drunk driver who does not reoffend may have his record expunged after 10 years.

However, the bill’s trumpeted reception has not been without opposition. Civil Rights activists as well as some Democrats in the state legislature are calling the bill unconstitutional for its warrantless powers.

Student support of the bill was also divided .

“Forcing blood to be drawn is a clear violation of our constitutional rights. Even though the bill does punish repeat offenders more harshly, it neglects the underlying problem, which is their alcoholism. Even if a drunk driver’s license is suspended for an increased amount of time, most repeat offenders ignore that anyway, so I don’t really see the real issue being solved. This bill, if passed, would be a tyranny to the rest of society,” said sophomore Sheri Balogun.

Other students seem more supportive of the measures.

“Drunk driving is a serious hazard to society, and I’m glad that the state of Missouri is making changes to more proactively combat the problem. Sure, I can see how the bill can be seen as unconstitutional, but sometimes, individual sacrifices must be made for the benefit of the greater population,” freshman Ryan Wong said.

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