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City changes DUI prosecution policies

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – The prosecutor in the city of St. Louis will no longer offer plea deals to first-time drunk drivers.

Mayor Francis Slay announced the policy change on his blog Tuesday. Until then, it was not uncommon for city counselor Patricia Hageman to agree to deals that would allow first-time offenders to keep a DUI charge off their record. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch report in October found the practice was widespread throughout the region. That, along with poor record-keeping, allowed individuals to avoid stiffer punishments as repeat offenders.

The practice sends mixed messages, Mayor Slay said in the blog posting, and ordered Hageman to stop.

The report is part of the reason for the change, Hageman said, but she also believes it's the right thing to do.

"Society passed a law and doesn't want first-time offenders to get a break. If you drive while you're intoxicated, than that's what you're charged with and that's what you should be convicted of if that's what you did," she said.

Hageman's office prosecutes about 500 DUI cases a year, and repeat offenders are sent to state courts. That will continue, she said. First-time municipal offenders face a $500 fine and 90 days in jail, as well as points on their drivers licenses.

The policy change should force people to realize the serious, criminal nature of drunk driving, said Meghan Carter, the executive director of the Gateway chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"You open up the yellow pages or the white pages, and you see all these attorneys who handle DWI's," she said. "That, you know, is their job, but at the same time it was something that could be easily taken care of."

Governor Jay Nixon has convened a panel of state experts to address other issues raised in the Post-Dispatch report