Driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol can lead to serious penalties. On average, a first-offense DUI carries a few days in jail, thousands of dollars in fines, and license suspension for at least three months. Depending on where you live, a first DUI conviction might also require you to complete some form of rehab or alcohol and drug education courses. But for many drivers, having a criminal conviction on their record is the most concerning consequence of a DUI.
However, many states offer another option for those charged with a first-offense DUI. First-offender programs (sometimes called "DUI diversion" or some similar name) give participants a way to get their criminal charges completely dismissed. This article outlines the benefits, requirements, and some of the nuances of DUI diversion and first-offender programs.
Diversions aren't court programs, but instead, a contract between the prosecutor and the offender. The offender stipulates that he or she was driving under the influence and agrees to complete a number of conditions, which typically include some form of rehab or substance abuse education. In exchange, the prosecution agrees to dismiss the charges once the offender completes their end of the agreement.
First-offender programs are usually similar to diversion agreements. However, first-offender programs are typically court programs rather than agreements with the prosecutor's office. Like diversions, first-offender programs normally require the participants to complete some type of rehabilitation or substance abuse education course. Program participants are generally rewarded with the dismissal of the charges or less serious penalties than would result from a normal DUI conviction.
Eligibility for DUI diversion and first-offender programs. DUI diversions and first-offender programs are generally available only to first-time offenders. Offenders with prior DUI convictions, prior diversions, or commercial driving privileges typically aren't eligible. Also, offenders with DUIs that involved certain aggravating factors (such as injury or deaths) generally won't be eligible for diversion or first-offender programs.
Program requirements. Generally, program participants must admit they committed the DUI offense by signing an admission of guilt. (This admission can become a problem for those who don't successfully complete the program.) Participants will also normally be required to pay some amount of fines or fees, agree to abstain from using alcohol or drugs for a period of time, and complete a substance abuse rehab or education program. The rehab program often requires the offender to meet with a licensed therapist or counselor and be evaluated for any alcohol or drug dependencies. Based on the results, the evaluator will recommend a treatment program that the offender must follow in order to complete the diversion agreement or first-offender program. Other program requirements might include community service, drug and alcohol testing, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), and attending a victim impact panel.
Benefits of completing diversion or a first-offender program. The benefits of diversion and first-offender programs vary. However, many of these first-offender programs allow participants to avoid some of the penalties that would normally result from a DUI conviction, such as license suspension, jail time, and huge fines. Many programs also result in the criminal charges being completely dismissed for successful participants. The end result will be the offender's criminal record remains clean.
What happens when an offender fails to complete a program. When an offender fails to complete the requirements of their program or violates one of the program rules, they'll likely be starting back at square one with the DUI charge. With diversion agreements, the prosecutor can move to revoke the diversion and resume prosecution. As the offender signed an admission of guilt, a conviction is all-but-assured. Failing to complete a first-offender program will have a similar result—the court will generally impose the penalties that a first DUI conviction normally carries (fines, jail time, license suspension, and so on).
If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, it's a good idea to talk with a knowledgeable attorney in your area. The laws of every state are different, and each situation is unique. A qualified DUI lawyer can help you understand your options and decide on the best course of action.