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In city of St. Louis, drunk drivers no longer get a break on first offense

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 24, 2009 - St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced on his blog today that, effective immediately, the city counselor's office will no longer allow first-time drunk driving offenders to plead guilty to a lesser offense. The common practice (for all moving traffic offenses) long has allowed drunk-driving offenders to avoid getting points on their driving record -- or see their auto insurance rates skyrocket (or their coverage get cancelled altogether).

But Slay said today that "when it comes to some serious issues like drunk driving, we should mean what we say. For decades, in every conceivable medium, all of us have learned that drunk driving is a dangerous, anti-social act. There is no ambiguity. And yet, it is a common practice for prosecutors to allow drunk drivers to plead guilty to a lesser charge because a conviction has so many consequences — from higher insurance rates to difficulty getting a job.

"So, we send mixed messages. As a society, we are outraged by drunk driving. But, courts/prosecutors don’t treat it that way. While drunk driving deaths have gone down nationally, Missouri’s rate is among the country’s highest."

"We need to change that.

"So, today, I have directed the St. Louis city counselor to ensure that — starting right now — all first-time offenders processed by her office face a charge of driving under the influence, and that the city end the practice (not uncommon throughout the state) of allowing drivers to plead guilty to lesser offenses. The city will continue to refer repeat offenders to state court, where they face even higher penalties.

"I hope that the state of Missouri takes steps soon to make the connection between driving drunk and its legal consequences less dependent on the jurisdiction in which the offense happens. Meanwhile, I hope that this change in city policy will eventually make it safer to drive, walk, and bike in the city of St. Louis."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.