Driving under the influence (DUI) in the State of Missouri is referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI), and it’s considered a serious offense that carries severe penalties. The statute defines driving while intoxicated as driving with excessive blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% and more or operating a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated or drugged condition.
Although many DWI offenses, especially the first offense, are prosecuted as misdemeanors, a DWI in Missouri can be charged as a felony in certain circumstances. The chance of that increase if the defendant is a prior offender, meaning they already have one or more DWI convictions. When this occurs and felony charges arise, it’s essential to understand these charges are extremely serious and carry life-altering penalties, including jail time.
If you are facing a DWI felony charge in Missouri, consider retaining the services of attorneys at the Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center. They have the knowledge to develop a strong defense strategy and protect their clients’ rights in court. Their team can fight to reach the best possible outcome. Reach out to them as soon as possible so they can hear your side of the story and explain your options, allowing you to know what to expect.
When Is a DWI a Felony in Missouri?
Although every DWI case is different, you may be charged for a felony DWI in the following circumstances:
- Committing a third DWI
- DWI involving injuries or death
- Having a prior felony DWI conviction
Third or Subsequent DWI Conviction
Anyone convicted of a third or any subsequent DWI would be facing felony charges. Under Missouri law, the individual is considered an “aggravated offender” for a third DWI conviction and a “chronic offender” for the fourth DWI offense conviction. Drivers convicted of five or more DWI offenses committed on separate occasions are considered “habitual offenders.”
Fatal Accidents and DWI Involving Injuries
DWI involving injuries to another person may also result in felony charges, even if the injuries are not severe. Drivers who caused the death of another person involved in the accident would also face felony charges, even if they don’t have previous convictions.
Prior Felony DWI
Finally, having one or more felony DWI convictions in the past would most likely result in felony charges, even if the new offense is typically not being prosecuted as a felony.
So, if the defendant is an aggravated offender, and he or she causes a Missouri DWI, they could be facing Class D felony charges. Class D felony charges would also be filed if a law enforcement officer or emergency personnel were injured in a drunk driving offense.
If a chronic offender causes DWI in Missouri, he or she will most likely face Class C felony charges. Also, if the defendant causes a DWI offense in which they act with criminal negligence and cause serious injury to a law enforcement officer or emergency personnel, it will most likely result in Class C felony charges.
A Missouri DWI would be considered a Class B felony if it was caused by a habitual offender. Under Missouri law, Class B felony charges would also be brought if the defendant acted with criminal negligence and caused the death of a police or emergency officer or any other person that was not a passenger in the vehicle the defendant was operating.
Felony DWI and Potential Penalties
Criminal penalties for felony DWI offenses range from spending several years to up to 30 years in prison. For example, a “persistent offender” could face Class E felony charges. These drivers could face up to four years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. A persistent offender is someone who has been convicted of two or more drunk driving offenses or one intoxication-related traffic offense in which another person was injured while they were operating a vehicle with blood alcohol content over the legal limit.
If a “habitual offender” causes the death of someone involved in the accident, he or she may potentially face Class A felony charges. Class A felony carries the most severe punishment under the statute with the range of not less than ten and up to 30 years in prison.
In addition to the prison sentence, potential community service, and fines, DWI offenders also face other repercussions such as driver’s license suspension or revocation. Also, those who have been convicted of a DWI felony in Missouri won’t be able to have their record expunged, meaning the conviction will always be a part of their criminal records.
Given the potential penalties, consulting with an experienced lawyer can be the key to avoiding or mitigating potentially harsh consequences. If you or a loved one faces a felony DWI charge, the DUI/DWI lawyers at the Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center are here to help. Contact us today to find out how having a determined, compassionate, and competent DWI defense team on your side can help you fight your felony charges and retain your freedom.