The Missouri Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week in the case of a man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Warren County.
Timothy A. Shepherd, …
The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the case of a man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Warren County.
Timothy A. Shepherd, 53, was sentenced in 2019 as a “habitual” offender, meaning he has at least five prior DWI convictions. That “habitual” designation made the charge against Shepherd a class B felony, opening him to a lengthy prison sentence.
An attorney for Shepherd is attempting to overturn that sentence by arguing that prosecutors failed to prove that Shepherd meets the definition of a habitual offender.
In March 2017, Shepherd was the driver of a Ford truck that crashed on Highway 47 in Warren County, according to court documents. Shepherd allegedly admitted to drinking six beers before the crash, and a highway patrol trooper arrested him for driving while intoxicated. A blood test later showed his blood alcohol content was 0.28 percent, over three times the legal limit.
After two years of hearings, Shepherd’s case went to trial in October 2019, and he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years by Senior Judge Keith Sutherland.
To convict Shepherd as a habitual offender, the court relied on seven DWI convictions from the state of Colorado. But an attorney for Shepherd is arguing that the two states’ laws aren’t identical, and that prosecutors failed to prove that Shepherd’s prior convictions were for acts that would be illegal in Missouri.
In a case summary submitted to the Supreme Court, defense attorney Samuel Buffaloe argues that Colorado’s DWI law is broader than Missouri’s, allowing someone to be convicted just for being behind the wheel in an unmoving vehicle. Missouri, meanwhile, requires someone to actually be operating a vehicle to be guilty of DWI.
Because prosecutors only showed that Shepherd had a DWI record in Colorado, and didn’t testify what underlying acts led to those convictions, they failed to prove his actions would have qualified as prior offenses in Missouri, Buffaloe argues.
But Assistant Attorney General Garrick Aplin, who is representing the state in this case, points out that at least three of the Colorado convictions were recorded as involving traffic accidents, as was Shepherd’s case in Warren County. It’s reasonable to believe that Shepherd was arrested while actually operating a vehicle, rather than for repeatedly getting in while drunk and then not driving anywhere, Aplin argues.
Aplin also argues that state law should allow felonies from other states to be considered as prior offenses, even if the out-of-state laws don’t exactly match Missouri’s. He would have to convince the Supreme Court to overturn multiple prior decisions to reach that conclusion, however.
Oral arguments in the case were scheduled to be heard on Dec. 14.