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Missouri minors punished less than adults for drinking

September 13, 2000
By: John Sheridan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Missouri minors who drink and drive have less chance of facing criminal punishment. Due to a quirky loophole Missouri juveniles caught drinking and driving face less punishment then adults.

Tuesday, a Kansas City appeals court ruled minors accused of driving under-the-influence cannot have their license revoked if there is not probable cause for the stop.

However, adults can have there license revoked if caught driving under the influnce, even if there was not probable cause to suspect the driver was drinking.

The ruling revolves around a zero-tolerance bill for minors who drink and drive, sponsored by Rep. Craig Hosmer-R, Springfield.

The bill seeks civil action against juveniles, but also states there must be probable cause for police to stop an offender. Under the zero-tolernace bill, a minor caught driving with a blood alcohol content of .02-.09 percent is charged with a civil offense, not criminal.

In Missouri, adults stopped with a BAC of .1 percent are considered intoxicated and are subject to both civil and criminal charges.

So minors who drink and drive under the .1 limit face fewer penalities than adults even though it is illegal for them to consume alcohol.

"We do not believe it was the intent of the general assembly to have two sets of standards that somehow made it easier if you drive drunk and are under 21, you somehow get special consideration and more leniency," said Scott Holste, an attorney general spokesman.

The court ruled on a 1998 case involving 20-year-old Jimmy Ballard who was stopped for squealing tires. Field sobriety tests showed Ballard had a BAC over 0.1 percent.

Since he was stopped for an offense other than probable cause of being intoxicated, he could not be charged with criminal DWI.

Holste said the attorney general will ask the Missouri Supreme Court to review the decision.