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Athens DWI courts chosen as national model

| Sep 11, 2015 | DUI

The courts are finally beginning to realize that those with multiple arrests for driving while impaired have issues that need to be addressed in more ways than just by imprisoning them.

Judges are aligning themselves with substance abuse counselors, parole officers, defense attorneys and prosecutors to find workable solutions for those facing charges of driving under the influence.

This disparate group forms accountability courts to get to the root of the problem in those offenders with higher blood alcohol content (.15 and up) and those with multiple arrests for DUI.

In Georgia, Athens established the first “academy court” in the state. The National Center for DWI Courts chose it, along with three others, as a national model. Recently it was host to a training program for court personnel and judges.

The National Center for DWI Courts’ senior director said the aim was to “redirect [those] trained in the adversarial system into a system that…recognizes the source of …the dysfunction.” Their goal remains to provide coping mechanisms for those to manage the dysfunctional aspects without resorting to drinking and driving.

However, these accountability courts are not the same as pretrial diversion programs. Participants do not have charges dismissed upon completion of requirements. At DWI court, the conviction remains on the offender’s record. The director added, “The crime of DWI is different. It…exposes the general public to a far greater risk.”

Fines and punishments aren’t ending the dependence on alcohol. High-functioning alcoholics can continue to work and then turn to a socially acceptable drug of choice — alcohol.

In these special courts, all partners work to find a workable treatment program that preserves the offenders’ dignity yet still holds them accountable.

Programs last a couple of years and require serious commitment by those participating. Both group and separate counseling sessions are held, and participants must remain sober. To gauge their progress, the regularly check in with their probation officer and go to court every other week.

If you think you may benefit from such a program, ask your criminal defense attorney to recommend you as a candidate for the Athens program.

Source: Northwest Georgia News, “DWI courts aim to change behavior of repeat offenders,” Sep. 04, 2015

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