It is part of our American sense of fair play to believe in “honest mistakes” and second chances. Most of the time, I think that a little discretion in the application of a rule is a good thing.
But, I also think 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.