Programs for DUI offenders

The path of criminal cases following a guilty plea or verdict seems pretty clear cut, you move on to sentencing and punishment, but with DUIs can be different.

Because DUI offenses are often a result of patterns of substance abuse, in Pennsylvania, there are a number of paths resolving a DUI can take from the entrance of a defendant’s plea on.

Instead of traditional sentences within the mandatory guidelines for DUI, eligible offenders may enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, the treatment court program or an intermediate punishment program.

“Programs are similar across the state, but they’re all a little different,” Warren County Adult Probation Director Carl McKee noted.

First time DUI offenders who did not cause an accident with injury or death or have a child under age 14 in the vehicle at the time of their arrest, may be eligible for the ARD program.

If a defendant is eligible, he or she enters a plea of not guilty and the charges against them are suspended pending completion of the ARD program. If the defendant fails to complete the program, the charges are reinstated and the case proceeds as if the defendant had not entered the ARD program. If the program is completed successfully, the charges are dismissed and the arrest record from the DUI is expunged. However, if a defendant later commits another DUI, the case which was resolved through ARD is counted as a prior DUI offense.

ARD programs vary slightly from county to county, but all must comply with state program guidelines.

Most ARD programs impose similar penalties to those imposed upon first offense DUI offenders with blood alcohol content (BAC) levels below .10. These include a period of probation, a fine, community service and participation in the alcohol highway safety school.

Penalties for first offense DUI convictions with BAC levels .10 or higher are generally more severe than the requirements of an ARD program.

“A first offense, depending on BAC , they’re looking at a certain amount of time in jail,” McKee said. “Often, for a first offense, it’s 48 hours. After that, they’re released on parole to serve the difference. The average DUI, for a first time offense, is running around $3,000 (in fines and costs) now.”

According to Warren County President Judge Maureen Skerda, a first offense usually garners 15 hours of community service as well.

Those facing a second offense DUI within a ten year period often find themselves placed in the Intermediate Punishment Program (IPP). Like the ARD program, IPP varies slightly from county to county, but is administered within mandatory state guidelines.

As IPP requires periods of restrictive punishment, such as time in jail or house arrest, for a length of time short enough the defendant would be handled in county facilities, the program is usually limited to second offense DUIs.

“You need at least 90 days restrictive punishment,” Skerda explained.

She added that in Warren County, sentences “generally” include 30 days in county jail and 60 days on house arrest.

“A lot of people think house arrest is no big deal,” McKee said. “But if you ask anyone who has been on it, it’s a very real inconvenience.”

Skerda noted the program is meant to ease the burden on corrections facilities while providing a long-term supervision and rehabilitation framework.

“The Warren County Jail is usually at or near capacity and county jails are meant for short-term incarceration. So we try to keep people moving,” Skerda noted. “The state has really pushed for people to stay local and we try to accommodate that.”

Following the period of restrictive punishment, which may be greater than 90 days and include residential inpatient substance abuse treatment, a period of supervision by the probation department ensues. The period of probation is generally set as the balance of five years at sentencing.

“People with DUIs tend to be people who are willing to engage in treatment on the whole,” according to Skerda. “I sentence 30 hours (of community service) for second offenses because I think it is important to see the impact on the community.”

“If you’re addicted, you have to change everything,” McKee said. “It’s hard. That’s why we believe long-term treatment and supervision is effective.”

Part of IPP program requirements in DUI cases include prohibitions concerning intoxication and even entering establishments where alcohol is served.

Offenders facing a third DUI charge or more typically face standard sentences with fairly severe penalties. Even the lowest BAC level offenders face up to two years in prison, one year suspension of driving privileges, one year with an ignition interlock system on any vehicle they drive and fines of up to $5,000. For offenders with higher BAC levels, maximum prison sentences increase to five years, license suspensions increase to 18 months and fines increase to up to $10,000.

“Third offenders, you’re typically looking at one year (incarceration),” McKee said. “Some of them will go to state prison for one to five(years). Some of them will stay in county with some sort of restrictive sentence.”

Multiple offenders in Warren County may have an option not available to some other counties within Pennsylvania; treatment court.

For offenders with prior DUIs and addiction problems who do not have possession with intent to deliver or violent offenses on their records, treatment court offers an alternate route to resolving DUI offenses while working toward sobriety.

The treatment court program consists of four phases of intense rehabilitation and supervision which require a minimum of 18 months to complete. Failure to comply with treatment court requirements can result in dismissal from the program and traditional sentencing for charges.

“They have to commit to either inpatient or outpatient treatment,” Skerda said of offenders in the program. “Each person’s plan is tailored to their needs.”

Offenders in the treatment court program must attend self help meetings, such as alcoholics or narcotics anonymous, at least three times per-week. Offenders must also report to probation at least three times per-week.

Each participant must keep a journal and the treatment court judge gives weekly written assignments to program participants. The program also has community service requirements which must be completed as a condition of compliance with the program.

“Accountability is part of it,” Skerda noted. “With addiction, if there isn’t treatment, there will be a return (to usage). Eight or nine individuals (are in the program)… They’re incredibly dedicated people, in incredibly difficult circumstances… I admire the people in treatment court. They’re very dedicated to what they’re trying to do.”

DUI sentences in Warren County also generally contain a requirement offenders attend the Warren County Victim Impact panel.

The panel consists of a group of voluntary speakers who have been directly impacted as a result of impaired driving who participate, “in the hopes of preventing things from happening in the future,” according to McKee.

“All offenders need to attend the victim impact panel,” McKee noted. “We’ve required that since 1994.

“What we do there isn’t a brow beat the offender sort of program. We try to do a program that is sort of, ‘This is what happened to me,’ and the offender has to look at how it effects them.”

“I think it’s an important part of our DUI program,” Skerda said. “We’re very lucky to have a very strong victim impact panel.