It is such a breath of fresh air to see men and women step up and take positive action to improve our criminal justice system. The introduction of drug courts and mental health courts have been a blessing on the State of Georgia in so many ways.
Now, we are seeing another common sense approach to crime; the DUI courts.
Today, I was fortunate to get to speak w Senior Assistant Solicitor General, Monique Hooper, of the Douglas County Solicitor’s Office about their DUI court.
Beginning in April 2013, Douglas County began to operate their DUI court under the supervision of State Court Judge Eddie Barker.
Ms. Hooper says that the Douglas County DUI Court has been a success in three major ways.
First, she believes that the court has had a positive impact on individuals in the community with alcohol related problems.
Second, by addressing the core problem with many multiple DUI offenders, alcohol abuse, the roads and citizens of the community are safer.
Third, the DUI Court saves the taxpayers money by reducing the time spent housing offenders in jail.
According to Ms. Hooper, DUI Court is a voluntary, post-conviction, treatment-based program for those who have been convicted multiple times for driving while under the influence of alcohol.
The DUI Court program offers enhanced supervision, counseling, and treatment to help participants function in the community with continuing support. The program lasts a minimum of 18 – 24 months, depending on participant’s progress.
In general, to be eligible for consideration, applicants must:
1. be charged with their 2nd DUI in 10 years or 3rd or more lifetime;
2. be 17 years of age or older;
3. show an indication of alcohol abuse or dependence;
4. have no prior convictions for violent felonies or current charges (either felony or misdemeanor) involving the use of force against another;
5. have no out-of-state warrants; and
6. have a valid immigration status with no ICE (immigration) holds.
There are also considerable benefits of the program to a person charged with DUI. These include:
1. less jail time;
2. a reduction of fine(s), conditioned upon successful completion of the program;
3. community service credit of 200 hours for successfully completing all phases of the program;
4. affordable treatment and alcohol/drug testing;
5. supervision in meeting license reinstatement requirements; and most importantly
6. support in achieving sobriety.
DUI Court is divided into four phases with each having a minimum duration.
During each phase, participants are required to appear before Judge Barker in a courtroom atmosphere for compliance checks, the addressing of any issues, and the occasional relapse of a participant.
The treatment aspect of DUI Court is the primary focus. Each participant accepted into the DUI Court Program is required to attend treatment sessions at the DUI Court treatment facility. Group treatment sessions figure prominently into all phases of the program.
Additionally, participants are required to attend formal support group meetings, such as those offered by Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and/or other organizations.
Participants are also required to find a permanent sponsor, and meet with that person on a regular basis.
Since accountability must be front and center, alcohol testing is performed on a random basis. Breath or urine specimens may be required at any time.
Ms. Hooper wanted to make it clear that DUI Court is not simply a “slap on the wrist” for DUI offenders. Punishment is always involved in DUI convictions. As a criminal defense attorney practicing in Douglas Co., I can assure you that she is correct.
But, DUI courts are clearly the smart, correct, and most cost effective way to address this form of unlawful conduct.
I hope to see more DUI courts surface soon in the west Georgia and Atlanta area.