This past week, a DUI charge against a Kansas City Council candidate was dropped before it came to trial because one of the arresting officers was fired.
The candidate argued that she was improperly arrested because the arresting officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe she was intoxicated, according court documents.
The case is just one of thousands of DUI charges in Kansas and Missouri each year, and it brought up some questions about how DUI arrests work, what rights drivers have and what possible consequences could be for driving under the influence.
Between 2017 and 2021, more than 120 people died in accidents caused by a substance-impaired driver in Jackson, Platte, Clay or Cass counties, according to data from the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety. And nearly 20% of Missouri traffic deaths involved alchohol-impaired driving.
And in Kansas, DUI arrests were higher this Memorial Day weekend than last year.
How much alcohol do you have to have in your system to get a DUI?
When someone gets caught driving after drinking, you will probably hear the term DUI or DWI, which stands for driving under the influence and drinking while impaired, respectively.
Anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol content that is 0.08% or above will likely see a DUI or DWI charge in both Missouri and Kansas. Drivers under 21 have an even lower drinking limit of .02 percent in both states.
“If you feel different, you drive different,” said Corey Carlisle, a sergeant with the Kansas City Police Department.
The key to determining whether the driver is impaired is to assess whether they are able to effectively use all of their senses to operate the vehicle, said Greg Watt, a local defense attorney.
What are the grounds for pulling someone over and arresting them for a DUI?
When deciding to pull a person over, an officer will look to see if the person ran a red light or is swerving, speeding, driving recklessly in anyway or not wearing a seat belt. In both states, the officer needs a legal reason to pull the driver over — it can’t be on suspicion alone — according to Kansas defense attorney Brian Leininger.
“They can’t just stop anybody because they feel like it. They have to have a reason because of some law you’ve broken,” Leininger said.
Once the officer comes into contact with the driver, they might suspect that the driver is under the influence. At this point the officer will start to investigate if the driver is driving while impaired.
What happens after a car gets pulled over?
Before an officer can investigate whether or not you are drunk, they have to have a “reasonable suspicion” beyond the traffic violation itself, according to Leininger.
“So, if you told them you’ve had some drinks, if you had alcohol in the car, if you smell like alcohol, if you’re acting drunk by slurring your words or not understanding what’s going on,” he said.
What counts as a “reasonable suspicion” of a crime has been the subject of court debate for decades. Heres a look at how traffic stops are supposed to go and what you do or do not have to tell the cops if you get pulled over in Kansas.
Carlisle said the officer will also assess the driver’s cognitive functions by asking questions and observing their actions.
“We’re looking for cognitive ability,” Carlisle said, adding examples of questions an officer might ask and responses that can signal that a driver is under the influence.
“Can I see your driver’s license, they pull out their wallet and hand me a credit card or they pull up a wallet and they drop it,” he said as examples.
All of those observations happen before the officer makes someone look at their finger or hop on one leg.
If the officer has reason to believe a driver is under the influence, they will administer a series of tests to gather more evidence. Those tests are called standard field sobriety tests or SFST. These tests are standardized and used all over the U.S., according to Carlisle and Leininger.
The tests will include a horizontal gaze nystagmus, where the officer looks to see if the driver’s eye is doing any unnecessary jerking or moving. Next, the officer might also do a ‘walk and turn’ test, where the officer is looking to see if the person can successfully focus on more than one task at once.
For example, an officer might ask a driver to walk in a straight line and count to 10. Lastly, the officer may request a one-leg stand to see if the person can keep their leg elevated while also counting or answering questions.
“I’ve let plenty of people go who tested but I didn’t have enough signs of impairment to charge them with DUI,” Carlisle said.
What is the protocol for that kind of arrest?
If the officer believes the driver is impaired after the three tests mentioned above, or if the driver refuses to participate in the tests completely, the officer will likely make an arrest.
It’s not until an arrest is made that the officer can do a breath test or blood test to check for the driver’s blood alcohol levels, according to Carlisle. The same is true in Kansas.
Does a driver have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test?
Yes, but there could be serious consequences.
Carlisle said that people absolutely have the right to refuse a breathalzyer test, but in no way does that mean that driver will be able to get back on the road anytime soon.
“They have a right to refuse but now you just took away my ability to be able to determine if your sobriety is in tact, and as a law enforcement officer it’s [my job] to ensure that other motorists on a road are safe,” Carlisle said.
If a driver refuses to do a breath test or submit their blood alcohol levels after a traffic stop, the Missouri Department of Revenue can revoke the driver’s license for a year, according to Missouri law.
In Kansas, if a person refuses to take a breath test or a blood test, they will receive a one-year suspension on their license plus two years with an ignition interlock device, which is a tool that measures the alcohol in your breath by blowing into a mouthpiece before the vehicle can start.
What are the consequences in each state?
In Missouri, the first conviction for driving under the influence will lead to 90-day suspension on your license. After the second offense, regardless of when the first offense occurred, the state will revoke your license for one year, which is the equivalent of receiving 12 points knocked off your license. If you receive a second violation within 5 years, you might receive a five-year license denial.
In Kansas, a first time offense can lead to anywhere from 30 days to a one-year suspension of someone’s driver’s license. There are different penalties depending on how much alcohol is in a person’s system, even if it’s the first offense. If somebody blows above .08, but below .15 on the first offense, it’s a 30 day suspension followed by six months with an ignition interlock device. If someone blows over .15, it’s a one year suspension followed by one year with an ignition interlock, according to Leininger.
If you are convicted of a DUI more than three times in Missouri, you may face 10-year license denial. In Kansas, after three offenses, the person loses their driving privileges for one year and and will have restricted to driving with an ignition interlock device for four years following the one-year suspension. The consequences become more severe the more times a person is convicted of a DUI in both states.
Both states have a zero tolerance rule for drivers under 21. In Kansas, drivers who are under 21 and have a BAC of .02 will have 30-day suspension of driving privileges and a 330-day period of restricted privileges.
In Missouri, an underage driver will have their driving privileges suspended for 90 days after the first offense, and their license will be revoked for a year for any subsequent offenses.
The cost of a DUI
A first-time DUI has a number of associated costs that can add up into the thousands, according to Driving Laws, an online publication centered on legal advice. Drivers charged with DUIs can see up to $6,500 in fees between car insurance increases, attorney fees, bail, court fees and ignition interlock device costs. These costs can vary by state, but either way, drivers facing a DUI can expect to pay up.