Diversion programs have been available to first time offenders for decades. As you know, these programs allow all charges to be dismissed once the program is complete–and that’s a beautiful thing. I started defending criminal cases in 1993, and one of the crazy things about diversion back then was that–for example–a man could beat up his wife (in front of their young kids, just saying) and get the case dismissed thru diversion. But, if you’re caught sleeping in your car and wind up with a DUI charge (the much hated DUI by “actual physical control” case), for many decades diversion was simply not an option. Beat your wife–dismissal thru diversion. Sleep off a buzz in your car–no diversion, sorry. Kind of defies logic, right?
The good news is that a few Florida counties have created specialized diversion programs for folks accused of misdemeanor Driving Under the Influence. Orange County and Osceola County now have DUI diversion (Seminole County hasn’t followed suit, let’s hope they do soon).
Of course, once a citizen completes his DUI diversion program, the State Attorney’s office will dismiss all charges (and bear in mind, an expunge should still be done, but that’s a story for another day). Offenders are not eligible for most DUI diversion programs if they have a prior DUI arrest, a prior diversion completion, or a prior felony sentence. Also, DUI cases involving an accident may not qualify. Actually, folks can be denied for DUI diversion for driving that falls short of an accident. For example,, it is Orange County’s policy to deny entry into diversion when the driver was driving down the wrong side of the road. In other words, if your drunk driving almost caused an accident, they’ll probably deny you entry.
DUI diversion programs are more difficult than their standard misdemeanor counterparts, but the extra fees and conditions are well worth it. Typically, DUI diversion cost over a $1,000 more than regular diversion. That being said, the money saved on future insurance premiums more than covers the higher DUI diversion fees. As an example, here’s a breakdown of Orange County’s DUI diversion program (disclaimer: these conditions change often, so don’t hold me to these figures…thanks):
DUI diversion in Orange County comes in two levels. The easiest level is sometimes referred to as Tier I. A breathalyzer result below a .15 qualifies for Tier I treatment. The program is 12 months long, it costs $600, plus another $500 donation to either the Victim Services Center or MADD, and this must be paid within nine months of contract signing. The offender must also complete the DUI Counter Attack School level I, attend the recommended counseling (they always recommend counseling), the Victim’s Impact Class, a 10 day Vehicle Impoundment/Immobilization, random urine screens, 50 hours of community service (minimum), plus another $87 in upfront fees.
Tier II of the DUI diversion program applies to those offenders who either refused the breathalyzer, or blew over a .15 BAL. Now, even though a blow higher than .15 qualifies for DUI diversion, the prosecutors do have their limits on this issue (a blow above .30, for example, would not, typically, qualify). Tier II encompasses all of the Tier I requirements, plus the following enhancements: 15 months of supervision (rather than 12), a $750 program fee, $1,000 donation to the Victim Services Center or MADD, an Advanced Driver Improvement Class, and the installation of an ignition interlock device for 6 months. Yes, the ignition interlock requirement is a painful extra requirement of Tier II.
Say what you want to say about Orange County’s State Attorney’s office, but they have taken the lead in this state with their innovative DUI diversion program. Not many other counties offer such an option to first offenders. Search my website and blog–how often do I compliment the State Attorney’s office? Answer: Not Often. But here, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. We can only hope that other counties in Florida take after this excellent program (Seminole County comes to mind here…).