Missouri's driving while intoxicated (DWI) (also called "DUI") laws prohibit operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. This article outlines exactly how the law defines DWI and the penalties a convicted driver might face for a misdemeanor or felony offense.
To convict a driver of DWI in court, prosecutors must prove the driver was operating a vehicle:
In other words, a DWI conviction can be based on BAC or actual intoxication.
Most DWI stops involve speeding or some other traffic violation where there's no question that the motorist was driving the vehicle. But Missouri's definition of operation extends beyond driving and includes being in "actual physical control" of a vehicle.
According to Missouri courts, a person who is in a position to restrain or regulate the movement of a vehicle is in actual physical control. So it's possible to be convicted of a DWI without actually putting the vehicle in motion.
As noted above, a DWI can be based on actual impairment or an excessive BAC level.
A person is considered intoxicated in Missouri if his or her ability to operate a vehicle is, in any manner, impaired or diminished.
The fact that a driver held a prescription for the intoxicating substance or medical marijuana card is not a defense to an intoxicated driving charge.
A driver with a BAC above a certain threshold can also be guilty of DWI without having to prove actual intoxication. This limit is set at .08% for most drivers and .04% for commercial vehicle operators.
The penalties for a DWI in Missouri are set by statute and depend primarily on the number of prior offenses the driver has.
Generally, first and second DWI convictions are misdemeanors. A DWI is considered a second offense if the offender has a prior DWI conviction that occurred within the last five years.
The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first and second DWI conviction in Missouri.
Up to 6 months
Up to 1 year
Up to $1,000
Up to $2,000
If the driver had a passenger under the age of 17 at the time of the offense, he or she will face the second-offense penalties even on a first offense.
In Missouri, a DWI that involved a death or serious injury or was preceded by two prior DWI convictions within the driver's lifetime can be charged as a class E felony. A class E felony DWI carries:
The penalties are even more severe if the driver has more than two prior convictions.
All DWI offenders are required to submit to a professional assessment screening to determine the most appropriate treatment program. Based on these recommendations, and the driver's history, the court will order the appropriate program.
Missouri has established a range of treatment programs for drivers involved in alcohol-related offenses. These programs range from a ten-hour risk prevention course to a 90-day residential treatment program. Costs range from a couple hundred to over $1,000.
In many cases, judges will order a two-year term of probation instead of a long jail term. During probation, the offender must comply with certain court requirements such as participating in sobriety monitoring and completing substance abuse treatment.
Offenders who had a BAC of at least .15% or have prior convictions must serve a certain amount of time in jail prior to release on probation.
A DWI will typically lead to license-related penalties. The penalties depend on the number of prior offenses the driver has, the driver's BAC, and the driver's cooperation with the investigation. All past alcohol-related enforcement contacts (such as test failures, test refusals, and DWI convictions) are considered prior offenses.
License-related penalties can result from a DWI arrest and/or conviction.
Missouri's "implied consent" law generally requires all drivers who are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence to submit to breath, blood, or urine testing when requested to do so by an officer. How a driver decides to respond to this request can determine the driver's license consequences.
When a driver refuses to take an alcohol or drug test as required by the implied consent law, the officer will seize the driver's license. The driver's license will be revoked for one year and he or she must complete a substance abuse traffic offender program prior to reinstatement. Following reinstatement, the driver must use an ignition interlock device (IID) for six months.
The penalties for a test refusal are separate from the DUI charge and are in addition to any conviction penalties.
A driver who submits to chemical testing and produces a BAC above the legal limit will also face license suspension. The arresting officer will seize the driver's license and issue a temporary license. A driver with no prior offenses will be suspended for 30 days, while a driver with at least one prior offense will be suspended for one year.
The suspension period for failing a chemical test will credit toward any suspension period for a conviction. In other words, a driver will only serve one suspension period for a test failure and conviction.
As part of sentencing for a DWI conviction, the judge will order the suspension or revocation of the driver's license. For a first conviction, the driver's license will be suspended for 30 days. A second conviction results in a five-year revocation. Felony DWI convictions result in a ten-year revocation.
Drivers who are suspended or revoked for a DWI conviction or test refusal must install an ignition interlock device upon license reinstatement.
IIDs for Convictions. For a first conviction, the driver must use an IID for 60 days. (A first offender can avoid the suspension by installing an IID early.) Repeat offenders must have an IID for at least six months.
IIDs for refusals. A driver who refused testing must use an IID for six months after serving the one-year revocation.
Missouri prohibits drivers who are under 21 years of age from driving with a BAC of .02% or more.
Test failures. An underage driver suspected of consuming alcohol will be asked to take a chemical test to determine his or her BAC. A test failure (above .02%) will result in a 30-day license suspension and a 60-day IID requirement. Drivers with a prior offense will be suspended for one year, followed by six months with an IID.
Test refusal. Like everyone else, underage drivers are subject to Missouri's implied consent law. An unlawful refusal will result in a one-year license revocation, followed by six months with an IID.
If you've been arrested for a Missouri DWI, you should contact a qualified DWI attorney. An experienced DWI lawyer can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and advise you on how best to handle your situation.