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BRENNAN: You Can Drive Without A License, Insurance, License Plates in Missouri Without Consequences

Charlie Brennan
July 12, 2018 - 11:30 am

Listeners to my KMOX radio program have tweeted and emailed photos of hundreds of St. Louis area cars tooling around with expired temporary tags, expired plates and, in more than a few cases, no license plates at all. 

These motorists have not likely paid their car’s sales taxes, personal property taxes, safety inspection fees or auto insurance premiums, necessary steps for updating  license plates in Missouri. 

Currently, there are no consequences for disobeying these motor vehicle laws.  In 2015, Jefferson City passed Senate Bill 5, a measure that “defanged” municipal courts, according to The Kansas City Star.

Related: PHOTOS: Car crashes into St. Louis Shake Shack

How?  The new law stipulated, for minor traffic violations, “the court shall not assess a fine, if combined with the amount of court costs, totaling in excess of three hundred dollars.”  That meant it was cheaper for Missouri motorists to break the law than comply with it.  Remember, compliance means buying plates, renewing tags, and paying insurance premiums, inspection fees and property and sales taxes.

In addition, the law now states, “the court shall not sentence a person to confinement” for the minor traffic violations.  Furthermore, a person cannot be jailed “for failure to pay.”  Instead, the municipal court can send the fine to the state’s Department of Revenue which can deduct the fine from the defendant’s income tax refund, if there is one. 

However, former state lawmaker Mike Colona, a proponent of Senate Bill 5, says the Revenue Department does not have the funding to carry out this function.

Court costs can be assessed against the defendant unless he or she is indigent.  If the defendant fails to pay the fine or appear in court, the driver’s license can be suspended by the Department of Revenue.  That’s assuming the driver has a valid driver’s license.

The result?  Garry Helm, a municipal judge in Independence, recently saw seven defendants show up in court on a day when he had 368 cases on the docket.

 “That’s because there’s no penalty for not showing up in court,” he told me on my radio program this week.  “We can’t issue any warrant fees, any late fees. We can’t suspend their driver’s license anymore. A 4-point or less ticket (driving without a license, no proof of insurance) is considered a minor traffic violation and you can’t put someone in jail for it.  There’s just no incentive to show up because there is no punishment like there used to be.”

Helm says a person in Missouri could get 100 tickets for no proof of insurance and not go to jail.  “It’s cheaper for a person to get a ticket or two a year for no proof of insurance than buying insurance.”

Prior to 2015, the court would issue a summons for someone missing a court date.  Now, with changes in the law, the court mails a notice to individuals who fail to appear.  Nobody goes to jail.

Helms concludes, “People have learned to play the system.  They drive illegally without tags or insurance.”

Locally, Judge Christopher Graville says if you talk to any court clerk or judge in St. Louis County, you will find court attendance is “far, far reduced. People are not showing up to court.”

Graville, who also appeared this wwek on “The Charlie Brennan Show,” claims another significant development is the increased number of  people driving without a license.  “There are people in St. Louis County who never get their drivers licenses.  They can come back fifty times and the maximum fine is $225. They can’t be arrested and they can’t be put in jail. And that is prevalent in the St. Louis area.”

Graville says one defendant told him it is cheaper to pay the fine than pay his taxes. 

Missouri, we have a problem.