JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A Missouri Supreme Court ruling could result in the release of some repeat drunk-driving offenders. A conflict in language between an old law and a tougher new one is at the center of the ruling. The old law states that if someone received a suspended sentenced after pleading guilty to DWI in municipal court, that conviction could not be counted toward state felony charges, which prosecutors can file on a driver’s third offense.
The language conflict was exposed in the case of Reginald A. Turner, 54, whose 2005 felony conviction in Laclede County was based on one municipal and two state convictions. The state supreme court ruled that if two conflicting standards exist within a criminal law, the defendant gets the lesser penalty.
The ruling means some prisoners convicted of DWI felonies could be released and thousands of others could have their felony convictions overturned. As of March 7, some 1,100 offenders were in Missouri prisons for felony drunken driving, but it is unclear how many will be affected. State Sen. Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, said senators hope to pass an emergency measure to clear up the law.