“A person commits the offense of driving while intoxicated if he or she operates a vehicle while in an intoxicated condition.”
That is what the Missouri statute prohibiting driving while intoxicated says.
A typical case involves a car or truck being driven on a public roadway by someone who is drunk on alcohol.
He or she is pulled over by a law enforcement officer. Observation is made of the suspect’s eyes, speech, and breath. Field sobriety tests may be administered.
If evidence is sufficient, the driver is taken to the station, blows into a Breathalyzer machine, and if the result exceeds the legal limit of blood alcohol, which is .08 percent or eight one hundredths of a percent, by volume, then typically the driver is charged, and held until a bond is paid to secure their release.
But the statute also covers situations that vary greatly from that all too common scenario.
For instance, intoxication to support a conviction can arise from any number of substances other than alcohol. Alcohol cases tend to be the easiest and most prolific, because evidence of drunkenness on alcohol is generally easy to see and prove, based upon the odor of breath, standardized alcohol sobriety tests, and acceptance of the results of Breathalyzer testing machines designed to determine blood alcohol percentage that sit in almost every law enforcement station in the state.
But a DWI conviction can also be based upon intoxication from marijuana; opioids such as Xanax, heroin, or oxycodone; narcotics like pcp and methamphetamine; or any other number of substances that can cause a person to be impaired.
It does not matter if the substance is illegal or not, or if the person charged has a valid prescription for the substance, and is taking only their prescribed dosage at the time of their arrest. Nor does it matter if the person charged was unaware of the intoxicating effect, or the level of intoxication, that the substance they were taking would cause, legitimately or otherwise.
A prescription is no defense. A lack of awareness or understanding is no defense.
The prosecution must only prove: intoxication – from some substance, be it alcohol, illegal drugs, or even a legitimately prescribed medication taken in accordance with the prescribed dosage.
Many may think that it is unfair to charge a crime where someone is driving while intoxicated from a prescribed medication. And maybe it is. But the policy of the law is safety first. Driving while intoxicated by any substance is a violation.
Notice something else about this statute. It says nothing about requiring that the driving be upon the public roadway.
And yes, a person may be convicted of DWI for driving in an intoxicated condition in a parking lot, on a crude dirt road behind their farmhouse that runs over their own property down to their fishing pond, or a grassy field out in the middle of nowhere.
Nowhere is the statute limited by place or public roadway.
And again, many may say this is ridiculous or unfair that someone can be arrested for DWI for driving off-road on their own property. And maybe it is. But it can and does happen.
These often-misunderstood little nuances about the application of the law relating to Driving While Intoxicated are just the tip of the iceberg.
The other statutory, regulatory, and court made law on a vast array of issues relating to the DWI law, such as how the state may prove intoxication in different types of cases and scenarios, legal defenses, collateral consequences of arrests, grading of charges depending on circumstances, and related drivers licensing issues are all topics of much study, debate, and attention by the courts, lawyers, and government agencies.
But much of it starts with the basic definition of Driving While Intoxicated, which is actually very straightforward, and very broad.
-- Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at email@example.com