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Court Procedures for Handling Intoxicated Drivers

NCJ Number
Alcohol Research & Health Volume: 25 Issue: 1 Dated: 2001 Pages: 32-42
Robert B. Voas Ph.D.; Deborah A. Fisher Ph.D.
Date Published
11 pages
This article presents an overview of the court procedures currently used in the United States to handle offenders who drive while intoxicated (DWI).
After reviewing some general considerations and historical developments in the identification and sanctioning of DWI offenders, the authors discuss various types of sanctions used, followed by descriptions of the judicial process for adjudicating DWI offenses and the various stages in the process where interventions can occur. The authors note that more than one-third of first-time DWI offenders are rearrested, which has led legislators and policymakers to focus on hard-core drinking drivers who are so often impaired when driving that they have a record of multiple convictions. This is especially disconcerting because of the generally low apprehension rates for DWI drivers. Court sanctions for DWI offenders can be divided into four categories based on differing concepts of why people drink and drive and how recidivism can be prevented. They involve penalties to achieve deterrence, education programs, alcoholism treatment programs, and incapacitating sanctions. Sanctions for deterrence typically involve fines and/or incarceration. Education programs provide information on key alcohol-related issues, such as alcohol's effects on driving performance, the relationship between rate of consumption and blood-alcohol concentration, and the nature of DWI laws. Therapeutic programs aim to reduce impaired driving by promoting recovery from alcohol abuse and dependence. Incapacitation can involve the impoundment of the offender's vehicle, ignition interlocks, license plate impoundment, and house arrest and electronic home monitoring. Based on research conducted to date, the two most effective means of reducing recidivism among DWI offenders are rehabilitative programs and incapacitation; the usefulness of punishment is limited. In describing the court procedures that are used for imposing DWI sanctions, this article focuses on juvenile courts, civil proceedings, pretrial hearings, pretrial programs, presentencing programs, probation, and extended supervision by judges. 53 references