Diversion Programs for DUI/DWI Offenses

Diversion Programs for DUI/DWI Offenses

Some efforts to prevent recidivism among offenders charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI), particularly those drivers who suffer from alcohol-use disorders, focus on motivating the offenders to participate in treatment programs. A number of states have programs allowing certain drunk driver offenders to be diverted from criminal sanctions by entering alcohol education or treatment programs (DPs). States identify their version of DPs by a variety of terms including, inter alia, deferred prosecution, deferred judgment, deferred adjudication, deferred sentencing, pre-trial diversion, probation before judgment, or continued without a finding. Successful completion of the DP, together with a period of driving without a repeat offense, can earn the offender a dismissal of the DWI/DUI charge. In some states, diversion allows the offender to retain a valid driver’s license. DPs are usually focused upon the first offender, with safeguards prohibiting an individual from benefiting twice.

While diversion program have developed in various formats, they all include rehabilitation/alcohol education, potential suspension of the offender’s license, and judicial oversight. While not all pretrial programs allow the offender to avoid a DWI/DUI conviction on the driving record through program participation, it may reduce the penalties. Other states simply do not allow diversion for high blood alcohol content (BAC) offenders.

Some states, for instance, have developed pre-trial diversion program for first-time BAC offenders, allowing them to attend rehabilitation/alcohol education in return for dismissal of the DWI/DUI charges. In other states, eligible offenders can participate in judicially-directed rehabilitative programs. To become eligible, the offender must have no prior DWIs over a period of years (i.e., five to seven), no accidents involving serious injuries, and no other major offenses, including driving with a suspended license. A court determines acceptance into the program, and the offender must incur all costs of alcohol assessment, education and treatment, and restitution, if any. Still other states have programs generally aimed at both alcoholic and drug addicted offenders, allowing “deferred prosecution.” The program, available only once, requires the offender to spend time in treatment and attend a self-help group. If the offender is successful, a court will dismiss the charges and place the offender’s license on probationary status for a number of years. If the offender fails to finish treatment, a guilty verdict is summarily pronounced.

The National Transportation Safety Board and others have recommended the elimination of diversion programs. One criticism is that without proper record keeping and centralized reporting, a repeat offender could be classified as a first offender multiple times, and, therefore, will avoid license suspension. Also, several types of programs have high rates of recidivism.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.