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DUI Court: What it is and How it Works

UPDATED: June 19, 2018

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Many communities have created DUI courts, or DWI courts, that stress rehabilitation and offer alcohol treatment programs. This is because threats of punishment for DUI offenses are not effective deterrents. Such courts focus on changing the behavior of the participant and provide intensive alcohol addiction rehabilitation and close monitoring in lieu of a jail or prison sentence. The courts emphasize accountability and hands on judicial involvement, and require frequent status checks, group and individual counseling, court sessions, house arrest, and a host of other restrictions. Incentives to complete the program are sobriety and reduced or dropped charges.

How DUI/DWI Courts Work

DUI/DWI Court is held in an actual courtroom, with a judge presiding over the court, a prosecutor and defense attorney, counselors, treatment providers, and a probation officer. The team works together to create an individualized DUI treatment program for each offender. That program typically has four distinct phases, each of which must be completed to complete the program. A program usually takes twelve to twenty four months to complete.

Compliance with treatment and other court requirements are key to a program’s success. The court monitors a participant’s progress, and participants are required to make regular court appearances, attend group counseling sessions, have individual counseling sessions, and abstain from alcohol. During court appearances, a participant reports on progress in counseling, describes any issues that arise, and discusses how to resolve those issues. If a participant reports losing a job, which triggered the desire to drink, the DUI court team will help resolve income and employment problems to remove those stressors so the participant can remain focused on rehabilitation.

Participants are also monitored with random urine and breathalyzer tests, home visits, and in regular group and/or individual alcohol counseling or support sessions, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. If a participant tests positive for alcohol use or misses a counseling or probation session, the DUI court team will try to figure out what caused the participant’s relapse and sanction the participant. A sanction could mean additional community service, probation violation, jail time, or expulsion from the program.

DUI Court Eligibility

The timing of a DUI court varies by jurisdiction. Many only allow a person to enter into DUI Court after pleading guilty or being convicted. Other courts are more proactive and allow a participant to be diverted through the DUI court, which means a participant is directed from a regular criminal court into the DUI court for processing.

Some participants enter the program on a voluntary basis and sign a contract while others are following a court order as part of probation. Those who participate in a DWI/DUI court are screened. All DWI courts have set screening criteria which varies according to state and local guidelines, but most require that participants be open to treatment, mentally capable, and reside in the jurisdiction.

Some DWI courts do not accept violent offenders, the mentally ill, sex offenders or juvenile offenders. Some courts serve only people accused of felonies. Others offer two types of DUI court, depending on whether the DUI charge was for a misdemeanor or felony. And still others are open only to those who have multiple drunk driving convictions. Some DUI courts may be stand-alone while others operate in conjunction with community drug courts.

Things to Consider Before Entering DUI Court

The decision to participate in a DWI/DUI court program should not be taken lightly. A participant who successfully completes the program and is alcohol-free can receive a dismissal of charges or a significantly reduced sentence. However, failure in DUI court can be used later by the prosecution as evidence that the participant is not a good candidate for rehabilitation.

Participants should also understand that DUI courts tend to be the pet projects of the judges in charge, who may take offense at failures in their programs. This judge could also be the judge who assesses sentencing at a later probation revocation hearing.

Before rejecting a DUI court admission, an offender should think about the long-term consequences of that choice. DUI court programs are designed specifically to address alcohol addiction problems of habitual DUI offenders. It is usually an affordable option for overcoming the addiction. DUI court offers an opportunity both for rehabilitation and a sober lifestyle.

How to Sign Up

DUI program participants require a sponsor, a defense attorney, or a probation officer. The quickest way to learn how and when to apply for DUI court is through a defense attorney who practices criminal law in your jurisdiction. That attorney can review the program requirements, costs, and travel assistance needs. Understanding exactly how the DUI court is run in your jurisdiction will help make an informed decision about the best way to resolve a DUI charge.

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