Boone County man's ninth DWI creates concern about repeat offenders

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COLUMBIA - The state appeals court overturned the decision to imprison a Boone County man for his ninth DWI.

On Tuesday, Richard Wilhite was exonerated on the the eight year prison sentence he received, after being convicted of his ninth DWI. Western District Court of Appeals found there was not enough evidence to connect Wilhite’s intoxication to his operation of a motor vehicle.

Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Komoroski said the issue with repeat offenders is not the harshness of the punishment.

In Missouri, first time offenders are charged with a class B misdemeanor that caries up to six months in the Boone County jail. The third DWI is a Class E felony, which means up to four years in the Department of Corrections.

However, offenders can receive probation up to their sixth DWI. A sixth offense means the offender may receive 5 to 15 years in the Department of Corrections.

Komoroski said, "A 5 to 15 year sentence in the Department of Corrections is a fairly stiff punishment, especially when you look at the fact that there’s an 85% requirement for that sentence." 

He said many repeat offenders are dealing with addiction and so the focus in on the addiction instead of adding more jail time. 

"I think the goals are to protect the community, to ensure that the offender does not hurt the community, but at the same time addressing the underlying addiction to stop the offender from offending again," said Komoroski.

However, Think First Missouri prevention speaker Chad Burton said maybe lawmakers should reconsider the way they deal with repeat offenders. 

“I believe they should be stricter for the repeat offenders because you can only learn your lesson so many times. A lot of people are dying from car wrecks involving alcohol.”

Burton is a victim of a drunk driving accident. He was hit by a drunk driver when he was in high school. The accident left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. Burton said 

"One car wreck and you can lose the use of your body from the neck down being paralyzed," Burton said. "I have friends that have to move their wheelchair with the back of their heads because they lost the use of all of their muscles because someone was a careless driver."

Burton said something needs to change in order for people to stop committing the same crime. 

“Just change your ways. Life is a beautiful thing even if you’ve had a bad wreck like me and you lost a lot of it," Burton said. "Offenders have to turn their lives around."