A St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation has found that chronic driving-while-intoxicated offenders routinely avoid felony charges because of arcane laws, poor record-keeping, confused police, complicated court rulings and a justice system that is slow even when all its players do their jobs. A computer analysis of Missouri data found that last year alone, authorities in the St. Louis area failed to file felony charges on at least a third of all drunken drivers who qualified for them. The result: The most dangerous drunken drivers are getting breaks before they even get to court. The failures ensure they’ll never face the penalties lawmakers have authorized.
A person’s third DWI case is supposed to be handled with a felony charge and potential prison time. That’s what the law says, anyway. The reality is far different. The Post-Dispatch analysis of Missouri data found that in St. Louis and six area counties, authorities failed to issue felony charges on 105 of the 275 arrests that qualified. Some chronic offenders get charged with misdemeanors or municipal ordinance violations – carrying little or no jail time.