According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every year more than 10,000 people die in accidents where alcohol is a factor, which accounts for around 30 percent of all driving deaths. At the same time, more than 15 million Americans also struggle with alcohol use disorders. As a result, state law tries to balance punishing this dangerous behavior with giving people the opportunity to get help for addiction issues.
This is why many states now have DUI diversion programs to allow some offenders the opportunity to keep a clean criminal record. Here is a short guide to DUI diversion programs and how they work.
Drunk driving as a criminal offense exists in every state. Although every jurisdiction has their own laws governing drunk driving, many use the term driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) as a statutory marker.
The basic definition of these crimes is when someone is operating a vehicle while at or over the legal limit, which is measured by their blood alcohol content (BAC) percentage. The limit for intoxication for all adults of the legal drinking age is 0.08% in every state.
DUI diversion programs provide some offenders the opportunity to have their charges dropped or expunged under certain circumstances. In exchange, the court requires that the person meet the requirements they set out. These can include substance testing, alcohol treatment classes and programs, DUI education courses, and community service.
Some states may require you to plead guilty or no-contest to the DUI charge before you enter the program, and only have your record cleared after the court records your successful completion of all the tasks the program requires. This is known as deferred adjudication.
A DUI diversion program is usually only offered to first-time offenders or offenders with less serious DUI charges. Once again, every state has their own specific guidelines regarding program eligibility, and sometimes even individual counties have their own criteria. Usually, diversion programs are only offered to first-time offenders, and only if their BAC percentage is under a certain level. This is most likely the “enhanced” DUI BAC level, which in most states is between 0.15% and 0.20%, and even first-time offenders may not be eligible for the program if their BAC percentage is higher than that.
In addition, many states also deny admission to individuals who have been convicted of or are currently being charged with a serious crime like murder or manslaughter. They may also deny admission if the DUI in question caused serious injury or death to another person.
The most common type of DUI diversion program usually involves a suspended sentence. This means that if the prosecutor and the judge think you are a good candidate for the program, you must first plead guilty (or in some places, no contest) to the DUI charge before you can officially become a part of DUI diversion. This is to ensure that failure leads to consequences if the individual fails, but also leaves the avenue open for the conviction to be cleared if they complete what the court asks them to do.
After the pleading, the prosecutor and the judge will give you instructions on how to begin the diversion program. The time frame and tasks vary from state to state, but can involve any of the following:
- DUI education classes;
- Alcohol treatment programs or courses;
- Random urine/blood tests;
- Ignition interlock devices (breathalyzer) on vehicle;
- Community service; or
- Commitment to stay away from alcohol for a certain amount of time.
Once the prosecutor acknowledges that the participant has met every necessary milestone, the program is complete. Then, depending on the state, the prosecutor will either formally drop the charges, or expunge the DUI from the person’s record. If the person fails to complete the program, the court can impose the original sentence.
DUI diversion programs vary wildly from state to state, and in some places, even county to county. States that offer these programs either throughout the state or in parts include Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Other states, though they may offer pre-trial diversion programs for other offenses, do not include DUI offense on their diversion list. Those include Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.
A DUI conviction can carry serious legal consequences, and a diversion program is a great way to get a second chance and keep your record clean. That is why it is imperative that if you are arrested for a DUI or charged with one, you need to seek the assistance of a local DUI attorney.
Your attorney will know what programs you might be eligible for and can talk you through every single step. They will be your advocate throughout the process and will make sure you are meeting the legal milestones necessary to keep your record clean.