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DUI/DWI Courts

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DUI/DWI courts are among a growing trend of problem-solving courts which aim to change an underlying behavior (e.g., alcohol abuse) and reduce recidivism. DWI/DUI courts are targeted toward "hardcore offenders" — repeat DUI/DWI offenders and/or offenders whose blood alcohol content measured 0.15 percent or greater at the time of the offense.

DUI/DWI court programs generally involve one to two years of intense alcohol addiction treatment, close court supervision and accountability, but less jail time and other punitive measures than traditional court. Numerous studies have shown that hardcore offenders who go through DWI/DUI court instead of traditional court are more likely to remain sober and less likely to be re-arrested for another crime. To learn more about DUI/DWI courts, contact a DUI attorney. A qualified attorney can help you avoid drunk driving penalties, such as helping to fight jail time for DUI.

DUI/DWI Court Eligibility

Traditionally, DUI/DWI cases are processed in the criminal court system. However, studies have shown that traditional sanctions (e.g., DUI jail, fines, loss of license) are not effective deterrents for hardcore offenders; many will continue to drink and drive until they are successfully treated for their addiction. In order to move a hardcore offender's case from traditional court to DWI/DUI court, the offender will need to be screened and approved.

Qualifying criteria might include any of the following:

  • The offender has been professionally assessed as having a substance abuse problem
  • The offender is open to substance abuse treatment
  • The offender has or will plead guilty to the offense (if pleading not-guilty the offender must go to criminal court for a trial)
  • The offender is mentally capable of participation
  • The offender has not previously participated in the program

Disqualifying criteria might include any of the following:

  • The offender has been charged or convicted of a violent felony offense (e.g., carrying a firearm)
  • The offender has previously been convicted with an excessive amount of non-violent felonies.
  • The offender was involved in a personal injury accident
  • Any other factors in the nature and severity of an offender's current or past crimes and/or other information that suggest the offender is unsuitable for the program.


Problem-Solving Courts

Problem-solving courts focus on underlying medical and social problems that have contributed to a defendant's persistent legal problems. The programs involve treatment, supervision, judicial leadership and other collaboration among individuals, families, communities and the justice system to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for these cases. According to the National Drug Court Institutes, as of December 2009 there were nearly 5,000 specialized courts operating in the United States as follows:

  • 2,459 Drug Courts
  • 1,317 Adult Drug Courts (354 of these courts are Hybrid DWI/Drug Courts)
  • 476 Juvenile Drug Courts
  • 322 Family Drug Courts
  • 79 Tribal Drug Courts
  • 172 Designated DWI Courts
  • 5 Campus Drug Courts
  • 29 Reentry Drug Courts
  • 19 Veterans Courts

To learn more about problem-solving courts, contact an attorney in your area.

As of December 2009, there were 526 specialized courts that managed hardcore DWI offender cases (see sidebar). An offender may be referred to DUI/DWI court by anyone involved in the process such as a law enforcement official, defense attorney or prosecutor. Eligibility will vary depending on the jurisdiction. Even if a hardcore offender meets the jurisdiction's criteria, acceptance is usually at the discretion of the DWI court so it is important to have a knowledgeable DUI/DWI attorney advocating for you.

DUI/DWI Programs

DWI/DUI courts offer intensive supervision and long-term treatment coupled with incentives and sanctions — a combination thought to be the most effective for reducing recidivism. Though the programs and phases (see sidebar) vary from one DWI/DUI court to another, the following elements are typical to DUI/DWI court programs:

Intense supervision, which might include the following:

  • Regular and frequent appearances (usually weekly) before the DUI/DWI court judge
  • Random and scheduled drug and alcohol testing
  • Strict adherence to scheduled court, probation and treatment appointments
  • Random and scheduled home and work visits
  • Immediate appearance before the court if there are any problems

Treatment program, which might include the following:

  • A detoxification program
  • An evaluation and treatment plan (including individual and group counseling and residential or outpatient treatment) which is reassessed and revised throughout the duration of the program
  • An evaluation and treatment plan for any co-occurring mental health disorders, which are frequently seen with substance abuse

Incentives, which might include the following:

  • Praise and special recognition from the judge and other DUI/DWI court participants
  • Decreased supervision (i.e., less court appearances, drug tests and probation visits)
  • Advancement to another phase or to graduation
  • Restoration of privileges lost in sanctions

Sanctions, which might include the following:

  • Curfew
  • Community service
  • Jail
  • Increased drug and alcohol testing
  • Increased supervision
  • Failure to advance to the next phase
  • Termination from the program

Unlike traditional court, offenders in DUI/DWI courts are fortunate to have a team (e.g., judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation officer, law enforcement, treatment providers, court coordinators and victim advocates) all working together to change the offender's behavior and reduce the likelihood he or she will re-offend. A DUI/DWI attorney can tell you more about the DWI/DUI court programs and how they might apply to your case.

DUI/DWI Court Program Phases

DUI/DWI court programs are usually broken into several phases. The following example shows the DUI/DWI court phases of a "DWI Academy Court" in Traverse City, Michigan.* (The National Association of Drug Court Professionals and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have partnered to recognize "DWI Academy Courts" to serve as models for DUI/DWI courts nationwide.)

Phase I/Stabilization and Treatment (minimum four months):

  • Daily preliminary breath tests (PBT)
  • Weekly random urine analysis (UA)
  • Twice-monthly review hearings and probation officer meetings
  • Ninety 12-step meetings in 90 days
  • Random home visits

Phase II/Healthy Living Plan (three to six months):

  • Twice-daily PBTs becoming weekly random testing
  • Twice-monthly random UAs
  • Monthly review hearings and PO meetings
  • Thrice-weekly 12 step meetings
  • Participant must develop a healthy living plan
  • Random home visits

Phase III/Maintenance-Community Service-Graduation (up to 14 months). Same components as Phase II plus:

  • Implement the Healthy Living Plan that was developed in Phase II
  • Complete the "Back to Basics" program twice
  • Write a narrative describing how the participant has changed in DWI Court
  • Pay in full all DUI fines for arrest and associated costs

It is important to note these programs vary — only an attorney can tell you what the DWI/DUI court program phases might be in your case.

DUI/DWI Court Lawyer

When a participant has successfully completed all of the phases, he or she will be able to graduate from the program. Some DWI/DUI court programs will reduce (or even drop) the charges for offenders upon successful completion of the program. Considering the severity of most DUI penalties, it is imperative that you are fully aware of your rights and options. If you or someone you love is facing a DWI/DUI charge, consult an attorney to make sure your legal rights and interests are protected.

* Source: National Center for DWI Courts