Hardship License – Tips for getting a “hardship” license in Missouri
This guide is meant to give a few ideas for those who are preparing to get their license “reinstated,” or to get a “hardship” license, in Missouri. Throughout the guide, the term “hardship” is used. It is an older term that is still in use but is often discarded in favor of the more technical term “limited driving privilege”, a.k.a “LDP.”
This guide is not legal advice, and cannot substitute for a retained attorney having a thorough review of a person’s situation.
SATOP, or the substance abuse traffic offender program, is a Missouri program administered by the Missouri Department of Mental Health. When you receive a suspension or revocation of your driver’s license in Missouri for alcohol-related offenses, you are almost always required to complete a SATOP program before having your lost driver’s license privileges “reinstated.” The program can be completed through a number of providers, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health publishes a list of providers here: https://dmh.mo.gov/ada/satop/omu.html
To complete a program, you have to undergo “screening.” Once you are assigned a program level, you need to make arrangements to complete it. Both the screening and the programs cost money, so it can be good to call providers and get both pricing and scheduling information in order to make your plans. If you have more than one type of alcohol-related conviction or license sanction on your record, and you never did SATOP after any of them, you would still likely only have to complete one SATOP program before being reinstated or receiving a hardship. It is never too early to research what your SATOP requirements are and how to satisfy them.
The Missouri Department of Revenue administers Missourians’ driving privileges. When you lose your license, you will likely have to pay a “reinstatement fee” in order to drive again. Not only that, but the fees are assessed in different amounts, and some will reduce in amount the longer they are on your driving record. For both hardship licenses and reinstatement, you’ll likely be required to pay all fees that are due. Knowing whether you owe $20 or $200 or more is something that you will need to know to make your plans, so a call to the Missouri Department of Revenue can let you know how much these fees will be: Call 573-526-2407, or search the Missouri Department of Revenue website for other specific contacts: http://dor.mo.gov/ It is never too early to know what your reinstatement fees are. The DOR will also tell you what other requirements you need to satisfy.
SR-22 is a form that insurers send to a state department of driver licensing that is some proof that the person has insurance. It generally costs more than regular insurance. SR-22 is commonly required for a variety of reasons. One is when a Missourian is seeking limited driving privileges. Another is required, for a time, after certain events, such as a conviction for DWI or a license sanction like a suspension for alcohol-related reasons. The actual number of reasons why SR-22 might be required is too long to address here, but it is important to note that SR-22 is currently required for the duration of limited driving privileges (which can technically range from a few weeks to nearly 10 years). Prematurely getting SR-22 insurance can cost you more money than is required.
Out-of State Issues
If you have been suspended or revoked in another state besides Missouri, you will not likely get a hardship license or reinstated until you “clear” those out of state issues. A common scenario is that a person lives in Missouri, but got a DWI in an adjoining state (regardless of their current driver’s license status in Missouri). If that person never paid fees, or complied with court fines or the state’s ignition interlock requirements in that non-Missouri state, they will almost certainly be denied a reinstatement or hardship in Missouri until that other state or state is satisfied. Other out of state problems include failure to appear suspensions, which can happen when a Missouri driver fails to pay or otherwise address that out of state court’s citation before that state issues a suspension notice. It is important to know if any states are showing you as suspended, and why. A call to the Missouri Department of Revenue can tell you if other states list you as suspended, as well as calling any states where you may have been tickets/arrested, or lived. It is never too early to discover any of your out of state issues.
Ignition Interlock Device
For a period after reinstatement, and for the entire duration of a hardship, a person must have on their car a Missouri-compliant ignition interlock device. This is a portable breathalyzer that will only allow the vehicle to start if a driver blows into it, and provided that there is no alcohol present in the breath. As a practical matter, a person can call ignition interlock installers in their area and ask about price information, which likely changes too often to accurately estimate here. It may be premature to install one of these devices prior to the “end” of the court case.
The current law allows for a person to receive a hardship license, simply put, from a court in the county where they work or live. This must be in Missouri. The usual concern here is that if a person lives or works in one county but (either) lives or works in a different one, then they must select a county in which to file the case accordingly. For reinstatement, the court must be in the county where the last conviction for DWI occurred. This is an area that takes great care and attention.
Because a hardship license (during a 5- or 10-year denial) or reinstatement (after a 5- or 10-year denial) must be obtained through the courts (and not using a check-the-box form submitted to a government agency), it is very challenging for an unrepresented person to do this by themselves. This is because of all of the basic knowledge and skill that is all but required to file any case and pursue it in court, not just because of the area of law. When you are unrepresented in court, neither the state’s attorneys nor the judges can advise you on the meaning of the law. Because of this, state’s attorneys and judges cannot help you out in even the smallest matters on the case, so if there is something that you need to do or must do, you will have to either know what to do or how to do it by yourself, or risk having your case dismissed for the smallest of seemingly insignificant technical reasons.
Not all attorneys, whether civil litigators or DWI attorneys will make good “driving privilege” attorneys.
While one attorney might be good at both defending a DWI on the front side, and another good at addressing the loss of license on the backside, just because they are skilled one side of the coin does not mean that they are good at the other. In fact, the difference in the way a criminal court case and a civil driving privilege case are handled can throw inexperienced attorneys off, and create delays and frustration for the client.
If you need a hardship or reinstatement, seek an attorney who does them.
It is hard to say here why a person might be “ineligible” or not. It used to be that if a person was convicted of a felony that involved the use of a motor vehicle (like a DWI felony, or driving while suspended felony, to name two common ones), that person would have a lifetime ineligibility for LDP during a denial. (they could still become reinstated, ultimately). The consequence of this, or any ineligibility, would be that the person would suffer what is commonly known as a “hard walk.” This means the person could not get a LDP for a time. As of January 1, 2017, the law in Missouri changed. Now, if a person’s most recent conviction for a felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle was used was at least 5 years prior, they are no longer ineligible for a hardship.
Not all, but many of those who have had more than one conviction for DWI also have what would be considered an alcohol “problem”. In other words, they may have a substance abuse problem that is undiagnosed or uncontrolled. When a person petitions the courts in Missouri to get a hardship or a reinstatement, the court is not duty-bound to grant it. The court, in the person of the judge, will be asked to make a determination that the person is safe to return to the road. This determination happens after a hearing on the issue held in public court. A person may be unrepresented (that is, represent themselves) at the hearing but a vast majority of those are represented by an attorney. An attorney’s job is to advocate for the client, and in essence, to put forth that person’s best case. The other side in the matter is the Department of Revenue, represented by a an attorney whose specific role to represent the State and inquire into the matter from the opposite perspective. In some cases, they are required to present evidence in opposition and make a recommendation to the court about whether they believe the hardship or reinstatement should be ordered.
Thus, a judge is unlikely to grant a hardship or reinstatement to those who have not at least addressed the possibility that they have a substance abuse problem and can discuss, in open court, their history with alcohol and how it affects their driving.
Keep in mind that those who, for instance, DID stop driving after being denied a license but DID NOT address their relationship with alcohol (slow, stop, or otherwise) may not be ready to drive on Missouri roads again (at least – but importantly – in the judge’s eyes). Those who “bristle up” when they are asked about their drinking are generally poor candidates for hardship or reinstatement. Remember, every case is different, but there are common threads to all. Those include at least two convictions for DWI. Many of those who only made a “mistake” and got one DWI did not go on to getting a second conviction for the same thing.
The upshot is that programs like SATOP, where drinking is addressed, may be a good starting point for addressing one’s alcohol use, but it may not be sufficient.
In order to have a hardship, one must be negatively affected by as lost license. In the statutory language, this means that the person suffers an “undue hardship” by the lost license. This means that a person almost certainly has to have a need for a license. The usual reasons are to go to a job, school, or in some cases to look for work. A subset of this kind of need to drive is where a person’s job is to care after others (a stay-at-home parent or a caregiver to family members who otherwise does not have a place of employment.
Not only that, but the express need for a license needs to be specific enough to be committed to writing. Thus, a person receiving a hardship from a court may be restricted to driving to certain locations only, at certain times only, and on certain days only (what amounts to a curfew). A hardship, unlike a reinstatement, is there to relieve the hardship, not to completely remove the inconvenience of having lost a license. Common orders for hardship include a restriction that the person not drive to places that predominantly sell alcohol, or consume or possess alcohol during the duration of the order (what amounts to monitoring client sobriety). While these may seem hard for a court to enforce, under some circumstances, going against such orders is very easy to detect.
It is possible to petition the court for a hardship or reinstatement too early. In the case of a reinstatement, it is fairly clear that either 5 or 10 years must pass since the last alcohol-related conviction, license suspension, or refusal in order to reinstate. In fact, ANY conviction for drugs or alcohol, including convictions for drug paraphernalia, must be far enough in the past to get by the statute.
For a hardship, the “hard walk” might be rather short in comparison to the length of the denial period. It used to be that 2 years of a 5 year denial, or 3 years of a 10 year denial had to pass before being eligible to receive a hardship. This restriction was removed about four years ago. The current hard walk period for hardship is very short: typically between 30 and 90 days, even for a 5 or a 10 year denial. However, this is a very technical area of the law, and eligibility for hardship must be assessed by an experienced person who knows what a driving record and conviction history mean. Indeed, one must now know that felonies involving a vehicle are no longer a lifetime ban for hardship licenses.