The Impact of Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in DWI Arrests and Convictions

Kimberly2 1Author:

Kimberly J. Benjamin, Founder & Managing Attorney

Are There Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in the Number of DWI/ DUI Arrests and Convictions in Missouri?


Over time there have been allegations and complaints of racially disparate policing against the Missouri police. The police have been accused of targeting minority racial or ethnic subgroups during traffic stops while being overly lenient with their Caucasian counterparts.

A 2018 federal report indicated that African-Americans in Missouri are most at risk as they are more likely to be pulled over, searched, arrested, or have force used on them than Caucasians. It’s not because they commit more crimes than other races but because the police somehow choose to focus their efforts on them leading to an imbalance in the criminal justice system.

These racial and ethnic disparities led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 2017 to issue a travel advisory condemning the enforcement of routine traffic violations in Missouri against African-Americans over and above their Caucasian counterparts during traffic stops and urging minorities to be aware of the risks while traveling in the state.

Six years later, the racial disparity in the Missouri criminal justice system persists. According to the 2023 Missouri Vehicle Stops Report prepared by the state attorney general’s office, the arrest rates for African American motorists for traffic-related offenses are at least 60% higher than for their Caucasian counterparts.

DWI arrests in the state typically begin from such traffic stops, meaning that the racial disparity would likely extend to such cases.

If you’re facing DWI charges in Missouri as a member of a minority subgroup and you have reason to suspect a racial or socioeconomic bias in your case, you need to fight back. The penalties for DWI offenses could be steep, especially if you have a prior record. Hence it is important that you do all you can to defend yourself.

The information here can help you understand how police biases adversely influence the outcome of the justice process and how it could have affected the process leading to your arrest, which could help as you prepare for your defense. Keep reading to learn more.


Reasons for the Disparities in DWI Arrests and Convictions


Studies have shown that the police will consider a person’s race and socioeconomic status before pulling them over or citing them for a traffic violation.  According to the research, the statistically significant reasons for this discriminatory policing include the following:

  • The suspect was found in a location where they were considered out of place. African Americans and other ethnic minorities are more likely to be pulled over in predominantly caucasian neighborhoods. Also, people who live in affluent neighborhoods are less likely to be pulled over by law enforcement than those from minority groups who live in lower-income areas. Even when individuals from minority groups live in affluent neighborhoods or appear to be financially comfortable, they are still at risk of constant traffic stops and indiscriminate arrests.
  • The police link crime commissions with specific races, such as the African American or Hispanic community. They are more likely to ascribe a high alcohol-impaired driving frequency to the members of such groups.

The more African Americans and other minorities are arrested, the higher the misdemeanor and felony convictions among them, leading to the racial/ethnic disparity under consideration.


How Racial Profiling Could Affect the Integrity of the DWI Investigation Process


DWI means driving while intoxicated. It is a criminal offense that is committed when a person drives or operates a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance.

DWI offenses in Missouri are unique because intoxication does not need to be established before a person is arrested.

By Missouri law, the police can stop and arrest any person for a DWI if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting drug or alcohol-impaired driving. The police would typically administer field sobriety tests on the suspect to determine their intoxication before making an arrest.

After the arrest, the police would seek conclusive proof of intoxication by initiating the process of checking the suspect’s urine, breath, or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to confirm their observation of alcohol-impaired driving behaviors.

Police observation during a DWI arrest is thus an important element of the arrest process for DUI/ DWI in Missouri. The law requires the officers to be objective while ascertaining whether there are reasonable grounds for a DWI arrest.

However, racial and socioeconomic biases could affect their judgment and lead them to wrongly arrest a motorist without sufficient cause. Such prejudices could also affect the integrity of the investigation process and the resulting evidence. If an officer already believes a suspect is guilty based on their race/ethnicity, it is likely that they would overlook evidence that suggests otherwise.

DWI/DUI arrests stemming from such a process would most likely be flawed. If you suspect this situation applies to your case, contact a DWI defense attorney for help immediately.

They can evaluate the circumstances of your arrest and the evidence against you and identify any errors during the investigation, whether they were born out of racial considerations or not. Your lawyer can use those details to defend you in court and possibly get your charges dismissed.


How Socioeconomic Profiling Affects the DWI Prosecution Process


Socioeconomic profiling can impact the outcome of a DWI case. The police often target minority individuals who are more likely to be low-income earners.

As a result, they may be unable to afford the legal fees that would enable them to secure strong legal representation to fight their charges. To avoid a lengthy trial, many in such circumstances may be forced to accept plea deals without fully understanding the implications of their choice.

If you’re in such a situation, try not to make such important decisions without getting legal advice from an attorney. You’ll be convicted if you plead guilty, leading to several difficult consequences.

You could lose your driver’s license. You could also spend a lot of time in jail depending on whether your DWI charge is a felony or misdemeanor and whether you have a prior related criminal record.

You should only consider a guilty plea when it would best serve your interests. This can only be determined by a skilled DWI attorney who can weigh the pros and cons and help you make an informed decision.


Get Help With Your DUI/DWI Case at the Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center


Sadly, the racial disparities in traffic offenses/DWI convictions and arrests are not likely to be eliminated anytime soon. The good news is that the law has created a system that can checkmate such incidents by allowing you to defend yourself after a DWI arrest.

You need to take advantage of this opportunity to fight your charges to reduce your risk of misdemeanor or felony DUI convictions, including seeking help from reputable criminal defense attorneys who can handle your case diligently.

Avoid being a statistic. Contact us at the Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center if you need help fighting your charges or more facts on a DWI in Missouri.

Our competent lawyers are prepared to represent you throughout your trial. You can rely on us to protect your legal rights and challenge any act in your case suggesting racial discrimination at any level. Let us help steer your case toward a positive outcome today.

Understanding the Battered Women Defense in Missouri

Understanding the Battered Women Defense in Missouri

Battered Women Defense   Domestic violence or assault is a criminal offense in Missouri and other parts of the United States. However, despite being a crime, many incidents of domestic violence are still recorded in the state each year, with women making up most...