DUI School and Alcohol Treatment Programs
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), each year there are more than 10,000 traffic fatalities involving alcohol. Instead of treating impaired driving like any other crime, many state court systems are shifting their focus toward providing treatment options after a drunk driving arrest. Treatment and substance abuse education has been shown to be effective in reducing the rates of repeat DUIs.
The range of treatment opportunities and legal requirements varies from state to state, but all 50 states and the District of Columbia require some sort of alcohol education or treatment services as part of the legal consequences for committing a drinking and driving offense. Here is a general overview of how alcohol classes may be able to help lessen the severity of a drunk driving conviction.
Alcohol education classes are mandatory for DUI convictions in every state and Washington, D.C. Even for drivers who plead down to a lesser charge, like wet reckless, the court may still impose substance abuse education. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the oldest and most common programs that provides support for people with a substance abuse problem. However, more states have specific DUI program requirements that use a combination of education and treatment, including:
- Initial evaluation
- Group counseling
- Individual counseling
- Group discussions
The initial evaluation is to assess the goals of the program and the needs of the individual. Group counseling helps attendees understand the common problems and issues others face, acknowledging that they may have substance abuse problems. Videos and lectures help participants understand the effects of alcohol on the body and brain, and how it can impact their ability to drive. Education may also include victim impact panels, where offenders hear from victims of drunk driving accidents and their families.
Many states require DWI or DUI school as a prerequisite to getting your license back. After your license is suspended, the court may require completion of court-ordered conditions before your driving privileges are reinstated. This may include:
- Waiting out the suspension period
- Ignition interlock restricted license
- Payment of all fines and fees
- Successful completion of alcohol and drug education program
To get a certificate of completion, the individual generally has to attend all the required in-person classes, make full payment for the program, and participate in the activities.
The court may also require DUI school as part of probation. Probation may be offered to first-time offenders as an alternative to jail time. The defendant has to complete the terms of probation or risk a probation violation. Probation violations may result in having probation revoked and the court can sentence you to jail. For drunk driving offenses or driving under the influence of drugs, the court may require substance abuse education and treatment as a term of probation.
Some offenders may go through an initial evaluation by a state-certified substance abuse specialist, to determine they are a good candidate for drug and alcohol education and counseling. The defendant may have to provide a copy of their driving record, criminal history, and arrest report. The evaluation may also require an alcohol assessment or drug screening and questionnaire about the individual's history with alcohol and illegal drug use. Based on this evaluation, the counselor will write an assessment and recommendations to be submitted to the court.
A substance abuse evaluation may be made based on the perceived risk of recidivism, within the following categories:
- Drug and/or substance dependent with a high potential for abuse: This designation usually comes with a recommendation for long-term treatment in a residential treatment center, which can be for more than 30 days.
- At-risk: Those who are deemed at-risk typically have more than one alcohol-related driving offense on their record. The most common recommendation is outpatient treatment and/or weekly sessions with a counselor or group sessions with a program like AA.
- Low risk: This is usually the finding for someone who is a first-time offender with no history of substance abuse issues. An order to attend a state-licensed DUI program is the common recommendation.
The judge may then take the assessment into consideration along with your willingness to cooperate, your criminal history, and your ability to take responsibility for your actions before deciding your sentence. Based on the judge's determination and your level of cooperation, your penalties might increase or you may receive a deferred sentence pending successful program completion.
In general, the participants have to pay the cost of the alcohol education program. If the defendant cannot afford the program, there may be financial assistance available, based on a financial assessment. The program fee generally depends on the length of program. A first-DUI offender program may cost more than $500. 18-month programs may cause up to $2,000.
A large percentage of all substance abuse treatment referrals come from the criminal justice system. States like California commonly offer DUI programs as an alternative to serving jail time. Virginia has a similar state-sponsored education program, known as the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program. Most states will allow out-of-state DUI defendants to take an equivalent alcohol education course in their home state for an out-of-state drunk driving arrest. Many states still require in-person attendance and participation and will now allow online DUI education programs.
The alcohol and drug treatment programs vary by state. Program requirements may also depend on the individual situation, including:
- Number of prior DUI offenses
- Your blood alcohol content at the time of arrest
- Aggravating factors
- DUI injury or fatal drunk driving accident
- Prior program participation
Talk to your criminal defense attorney about the program requirements for your state and how you can participate in alcohol education to avoid jail time.
As an example, California has set a standard for program requirements based on specific DUI offenses. State programs separate defendants into several categories with specific penalties for the following:
- Wet Reckless: 12-hour alcohol education program
- Under-21 First Offender: 12-hour alcohol education program
- First DUI: 30-hour/3-month program - BAC under 0.20%
- First DUI - High BAC: 60-hour/9-month program - BAC 0.20% or higher
- Repeat Wet Reckless: 60-hour/9-month program - BAC 0.20% or higher
- Repeat DUI: 18-month multiple offender program
- Repeat High BAC DUI: 30-month program
Drug court programs and drug diversion programs may require substance abuse treatment and counseling as requirements for avoiding jail. Drug and alcohol treatment programs can help first-time offenders and people with substance abuse problems avoid the harshest penalties of an impaired driving arrest. Dealing with the courts and DMV can be a difficult and frustrating experience. Criminal defense lawyers understand the legal process to help protect your rights after a drunk driving arrest. Contact an experienced drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.