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DUI Diversion Programs: What They Are and How They Work

State laws take driving under the influence (DUI) seriously and often impose strict penalties for those convicted of the crime, including possible jail time in many instances. However, everyone makes mistakes and sometimes it makes more sense to give first offenders a second chance. This is the rationale behind DUI diversion programs, which are a form of pretrial diversion that require the defendant to complete DUI classes (sometimes referred to as “DUI school”) ; undergo alcohol treatment; submit to random urine tests; and/or do a specified amount of community service in exchange for having the DUI charges dropped. DUI diversion is a great opportunity for first offenders to avoid having a DUI conviction added to their criminal record, and has been shown to reduce recidivism.

The following information provides a summary of what DUI diversion programs are with state-specific examples.

Are You Eligible for DUI Diversion?

The exact eligibility requirements vary by state, and sometimes by counties within a state, but generally are limited to first-time offenders. There are also differences in how willing a state’s attorney is to come to a diversion agreement and allow DUI diversion (sometimes called DUII diversion or DWI diversion in certain states) to proceed.

Most states also limit DUI diversion to cases where the defendant’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is below a certain level, often 0.15 percent, and where no one was seriously injured or killed prior to the DUI arrest. Other aggravating factors also determine eligibility, such as whether the defendant has a prior felony, what intoxicants were involved, or if there was a child in the motor vehicle at the time of arrest.

Also, depending on the state, the court may require the offender to first enter a guilty plea to a DUI offense and admit responsibility, even if the charges ultimately will be dropped (also referred to as deferred adjudication ). This could present a problem if the defendant fails to complete his or her responsibilities under the DUI diversion program, since the admission of guilt could be used against them.

DUI Diversion Programs: How They Work

The most common type of diversion program involves a suspended sentence , in which the court orders the suspension of a DUI sentence while the defendant completes his or her DUI diversion obligations. By suspending the sentence (instead of dropping charges outright), the court retains the option to adjudicate the case in the event the defendant fails to meet the requirements of the diversion. In such instances, the defendant will be subject to the original sentence.

As stated earlier, the diversion program usually includes DUI or substance abuse classes; community service (such as highway cleanup or speaking publicly about the dangers of drunk driving); payment of fines; and random urine tests. Once all the conditions of diversion are met, the court will usually dismiss the charges. Some jurisdictions also allow the defendant to expunge the DUI arrest entirely, while in other states there will be a record of the charge and successful completion of the program. There are also considerations such as license suspension (or revocation or driving privilege) that need to be taken into account, and a criminal defense attorney can help those accused of impaired driving or related offenses understand how those items work in conjunction with DUI diversion programs.

The state’s attorney usually determines the conditions of the pretrial diversion program and whether a defendant is accepted, but some states leave that decision up to the court.

State Examples of DUI Diversion Programs

Since the availability and terms of diversion programs differ by jurisdiction, the best way to describe how these programs work is to provide state-specific examples. Make sure you double-check your state’s laws or speak with a DUI attorney, since laws are subject to change and not all DUI cases are alike.

  • Florida – Offered in Orange and Osceola counties; a DUI offender must have fewer than two prior misdemeanor convictions; must have completed no more than one prior diversion program; facts of the case must show the defendant to be a good candidate for the program; after successful completion, defendant’s DUI charge will be dismissed and may be expunged (pending other eligibility requirements).
  • Pennsylvania – Offered statewide, but some requirements vary by county; must have completed only one such program in the past 10 years; must have been no children under 14 in the vehicle; admission of guilt is not required; charges are dropped upon completion of the program, and record of the DUI complaint may be expunged.
  • Oregon – Offered statewide (uniform among the counties); may not have a prior DUI in the past 15 years; court decides who is accepted into the program; must plead guilty or no contest; court will dismiss the case after successful completion of the program and a one-year probationary period, during which time an ignition interlock device (IID) must be installed.
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