plea bargainPinAmong the most under cited yet interesting DWI law-related topics in contemporary jurisprudence is the increased use of problem-solving courts. DWI/DUI courts are a type of diversion court designed to alleviate the burden of DWI/DUIs on regular court and corrections resources. These problem-solving courts use alternative interventions and treatment for offenders who plead guilty to driving while impaired or intoxicated. The establishment of the National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC) has resulted in the explosive growth of DWI courts, as well as other problem-solving courts for domestic violence and other specific offenses.

As of June 2013, there were 651 DWI courts across the U.S.

A Brief History of DWI Courts

Established in June 2007, NCDC seeks to raise awareness of DWI courts’ success by providing training, research, and technical support to these alternative courts. The NCDC partnered with and is sponsored by Beam Global Spirits and Wine, Inc., The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Virginia-based Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, Inc., and the Century Council.

The first DWI court—established in 1989 in Miami-Dade County, Florida—based its model on identifying underlying, chronic behaviors and adding graduated sanctions and other incentives, various treatment, and other social services. The county saw a significant reduction in DWI/DUI recidivism rates. Further, other courts across the country have experienced similar recidivism reduction and lower DWI/DUI incarceration rates.

How DWI Courts Work

At the heart of any problem-solving court is a judge who works with a community team that includes law enforcement, prosecution, defense attorneys, probation, and treatment providers to develop a unique case plan and to monitor progress. Of particular concern, however, is that whereas more traditional drug courts expect and tolerate minor setbacks, DWI courts do not tolerate any type of setback because of the significant public safety concerns which may ensue.

As is the case with any intervention or treatment, those who truly seek rehabilitation and have the desire to abstain from drinking and driving are those helped most by DWI courts. The emphasis is on reducing alcoholism and promoting offender responsibility for his/her actions.

In addition to abstinence, DWI court participants are also subject to other conditions such as:

  • Attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and/or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings
  • Community service
  • Random police/probation officer visits
  • Random urinalysis and/or blood alcohol tests
  • Transdermal alcohol detection devices or anti-drunk driving vehicle modifications

Core Principles of DWI Courts

Borrowed from drug courts, there are ten guiding principles alternative courts adhere to. They include:

  1. Determining the necessary population to serve
  2. Performing a clinical assessment to determine underlying issues
  3. Creating a multidisciplinary treatment plan
  4. Providing appropriate supervision
  5. Cultivating agency, community, and organization partnerships
  6. Adopting a judicial leadership role
  7. Developing strategies for successful case management
  8. Addressing any transportation issues which may impede the offender’s success
  9. Evaluating the program
  10. Creating and maintaining an adaptable and sustainable program

DWI Courts in Minnesota

In Minnesota, DWI courts strive to:

  • Increase public safety by reducing the incidence of drunk driving and alcohol-related accidents and deaths
  • Help offenders get and remain clean and sober
  • Reduce alcohol/drug-related crime
  • Reduce incarceration populations and costs

Among the various court services include:

  • Intensive probation supervision
  • One-on-one judicial interaction
  • Counseling services
  • Support groups
  • Drug and alcohol abuse treatment
  • Cognitive health and skills programs
  • Community service
  • Education and employment assistance
  • Victim impact panels

Grants from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the NHTSA provide funding for the state’s program. Additional revenue comes from participants’ requirements to pay for alcohol monitoring services, corrections services, program participation, ignition interlock devices, and other fees as deemed necessary by the court. Participants also commonly pay restitution to their victims.