Every year, thousands of drivers in Missouri find themselves staring down a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge. For most of these individuals, it is a one-time mistake. They’ve never been arrested for drunk driving before, and it likely won’t happen again.

If you find yourself in this situation, what is the worst-case scenario you can expect?

Criminal penalties for first-time offenders

Missouri law classifies a first-time DWI as a Class B misdemeanor. That means if you are convicted, the maximum possible criminal penalty you could face is six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. In many cases, however, a straightforward DWI can conclude with a significantly softer sentence.

However, there are some circumstances that may result in elevated charges, including a more serious misdemeanor or even a felony. This can happen, for example, if a person convicted of first-time DWI:

  • Injured someone else while driving drunk
  • Killed another individual while driving drunk
  • Was driving drunk with someone under the age of 17 in the vehicle

While some first-time offenders may feel little heat from the criminal justice system, others may face years in prison and hefty fines. It all depends on the circumstances.

There are also administrative penalties

In addition to the criminal penalties mentioned above, an individual arrested on suspicion of DWI can lose their license for a period of time, even if ultimately not convicted of a crime. If you are arrested, and tests show a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or over the legal limit of 0.08%, the state automatically suspends your license for 90 days.

In many cases, you can challenge this license suspension, but have to act quickly to do so. The law gives you just 15 days from the notice of suspension to request a hearing. In addition, it may be possible to earn back restricted driving privileges after just 30 days, or in some cases immediately if you agree to the use of an ignition interlock device.

Of course, a DWI arrest is never the end of the story. There are many ways to fight drunk driving accusations, including by questioning the evidence and initial reasoning for the traffic stop. With the right approach, it’s possible to quickly move on from this isolated incident and get on with your life.