Miami-Dade Prosecutors Announce DUI Diversion Program for First-Time Offenders

May 18, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

A policy shift by the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office has the potential to radically change the way south Florida DUI defense lawyers like me do our jobs. As NBC Miami reported May 10, the prosecutors have announced that first drunk driving offenders in the county will no longer be prosecuted for drunk driving. Instead, those offenders will have the option to choose a program in which they are convicted of reckless driving and sentenced to a fine, a year of DUI classes, an ignition interlock device and possible community service. Failure to complete this probationary period would likely bring the DUI charge back. The program will be offered only to first offenders who did not get into an accident, had no children in the car with them and have no history of reckless driving.

The program is similar to pretrial diversion programs offered in other jurisdictions for offenses like drug possession or passing bad checks. In essence, it gives the defendant a chance to avoid a serious conviction in exchange for successfully completing a parole period designed to discourage and change the behaviors that got him or her into trouble in the first place. Criminal defense attorneys told the media they were cautiously optimistic about the program’s ability to address the alcohol problems underlying DUIs. A MADD spokesperson said the program sent the wrong message but may help prevent drivers from getting off scot-free. The State’s Attorney’s office echoed that, saying offenders can currently have their cases dismissed if witnesses don’t show up. The office also said the program would give defendants a chance to turn their lives around.

As a Miami drunk driving criminal defense attorney, I’m eager for more information on this program. At first glance, this looks like a good thing for first DUI offenders. Rather than face a criminal conviction for DUI, which carries loss of your driver’s license and skyrocketing insurance rates, this program would offer defendants a chance to plead to reckless driving instead. Reckless driving is not free of consequences — it puts four points on your license and carries optional jail time — but it’s generally better for the defendant than intoxicated driving. That’s especially important because many first drunk driving charges stem from foolish mistakes, not habitual alcoholism, and this policy could prevent them from facing very harsh penalties while giving them a taste of what could happen if they aren’t more careful. And of course, defendants retain the option of not taking the plea deal and defending the DUI charge in court. As a Fort Lauderdale intoxicated driving criminal defense lawyer, I look forward to hearing more from the State’s Attorney’s office.

If you’re charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in south Florida, you’re facing multiple criminal and civil penalties that could substantially affect your work and personal life. To start building a strong defense, don’t wait to call Seltzer Law, P.A., for help. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, send us a message online or call 24 hours a day and seven days a week at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).