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St. Louis gets tough on first offense DWI

By Kamika Dunlap on November 25, 2009 9:15 AM

Prosecutors in St. Louis are handing out stiffer penalties for drivers charged with their first DWI.

The move is intended to help area leaders become more consistent in how they treat first time DWIs, the St. Louis Dispatch reports.

Mayor Francis Slay ordered prosecutors to crack down on drunken drivers and to stop granting plea deals in first DWI cases that reduce charges or otherwise allow driving records to stay clean.

The city's policy shift follows laws already in other states and federal legislations that aim to tighten loopholes in DWI enforcement.

As previously discussed, the New York Assembly recently passed a new tough DWI law. Leandra's Law, pushes for some of the nation's toughest drunk-driving penalties, including making it a felony to drive intoxicated with children as passengers and forcing first time DWI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed.

We also discussed, how California is reviewing its DUI laws that allow repeat offenders to get licenses. Currently, State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has called for the creation of a law that would automatically strip multiple offenders of their licenses.

In St. Louis municipal court prosecutors are now urged to push for more use of devices that test a defendant's breath before the car will start.

Typically, punishment is particularly soft in the more than 100 municipal courts in the region. In most cases, courts either convict defendants of non-alcohol offenses, such as careless driving, or put them in a special no-conviction probation program that keeps the DWI off their records and eventually seals the case from public view.

But recently, the St. Louis mayor's office, which appoints judges abandoned the old policy.

By pushing for greater punishment, city officials  say they expect  to take their cases to trial. In addition, the city administration would propose an extra $1 court fee to cover the costs of hiring public defenders to handle the expected workload.

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