Bureaucracy, Poor Communication and Bad Rules Keep Repeat DWI Offenders on the Road

By September 17, 2009Auto Accidents

Last week, I wrote about the sentencing of a man with five prior drunk driving convictions who stayed free — long enough to kill a couple and their unborn child in another crash. On Sept. 13, I was pleased to see that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had followed up, after a fashion, with a special report on just how multiple DWI offenders like that one manage to stay on the road. According to the newspaper, the answer is complicated — but failures by nearly every part of the justice system play a role. The Post-Dispatch listed poor record-keeping, omissions and confusion by police, outdated laws and slowness by the courts as major reasons why chronic drunk drivers keep their driving privileges.
Under Missouri law, drivers charged with a third or subsequent DWI should be charged with a felony. But according to an analysis by the Post-Dispatch, 105 of the 275 such arrests in 2008 in a six-county region around St. Louis did not result in any felony charge. In two-thirds of those cases, county prosecutors said police simply never asked them to file it as a felony. In order to do that, police need to show that the offense is a third DWI, something that incomplete databases don’t always do. Under certain circumstances, even a known conviction doesn’t count if it was tried by a judge who was not an attorney, which confuses police and prosecutors. And requests for court records to prove that it’s a third offense can take months to receive, the newspaper said, leading some prosecutors to file charges as misdemeanors before the case is too old to prosecute at all.
The article goes into detail about one chronic drunk driver named Michael O’Fallon. Until early August of this year, the Eureka man had four prior drunk driving convictions, all in Missouri. Because of incomplete records, none of those had been prosecuted as felonies, and O’Fallon had served no jail time. Then, on Aug. 3, O’Fallon swerved his car head-on into the path of the Colombini family’s van. The crash sent wife Jamie Colombini and the family’s 16-year-old daughter, Amanda, to the hospital. Jamie Colombini and her husband, Andy, may both need back surgery. Their children are still shaken up by the incident; Amanda has her driver’s license but was afraid to use it. O’Fallon, meanwhile, checked himself into an inpatient addiction treatment program — but because the wheels of justice turn slowly, he does not yet face any charges.
As a St. Louis auto accident attorney, I hope this report will inspire our state’s lawmakers to streamline and modernize the systems named in the article and bureaucracies to shape up. These systems are in place specifically to help law enforcement and prosecutors identify repeat offenders — but they can only do that if their tools are working properly. Because they are not, chronic intoxicated drivers like O’Fallon and others profiled in the article are allowed to stay on the street, where they could catastrophically injure or even kill the innocent people they happen to pass. Governments may have to struggle through budget problems to find money for a project like this, but as a Missouri car crash lawyer, I believe saving lives is worth that struggle.


Based in St. Louis, the Lowe Law Firm represents people throughout Missouri and southern Illinois who were seriously injured in a traffic accident that was no fault of their own. In many cases, our clients are struggling not only with severe injuries or a death in the family, but also with the financial problems that these things can cause. After a crash, many ordinary families find that their savings are simply not enough to cover the high medical bills and loss of income they face, sending them into a panic as they try to make ends meet. Our southern Illinois car wreck attorneys work hard to ease those concerns by pushing aggressively for the best possible settlement from an insurance company, or, if necessary, taking that insurance company to court.
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