Dec. 21, 2004 wire reports

ST. LOUIS -- The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Leonard Little's request to have a felony drunken driving charge thrown out, declining comment on his claim that the law behind the count is unconstitutional.

Attorneys for the Rams defensive end argued that under Missouri law, a jury, not as a judge, should have decided whether Little is a persistent offender, given his previous conviction in a 1998 drunken-driving wreck that killed a woman.

The prosecutor, Mark Bishop, countered in legal filings that a St. Louis County judge and the Missouri Court of Appeals have rejected Little's claims, and that Missouri's high court should do the same.

Among other things, Little argued that U.S. Supreme Court rulings since 2000 relating to a defendant's constitutional right to a jury trial applied in his case.

Little is scheduled to go to on trial March 28 on charges that he was driving under the influence and speeding when stopped by police early on the morning of April 24 in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue. Police said he was traveling 78 mph in a 55-mph zone.

Police say he failed three field sobriety tests.

In 1998, Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in a St. Louis crash that killed Susan Gutweiler. Little's blood-alcohol level was nearly twice Missouri's legal limit.

Little completed a three-month jail sentence, 1,000 hours of community service and four years of probation. He also was suspended without pay for the first half of the 1999 season.

Little went to his first Pro Bowl after last season, when he was fifth in the NFL with 12 1/2 sacks. This season, Little leads the Rams with 5 sacks and his 61-yard fumble return accounted for the Rams' only score in Sunday's 31-7 loss at Arizona.

The NFL has said Little, if convicted, could face another suspension under terms of its substance-abuse policy.
The Associated Press News Service