Crimes which are committed while the person is in the state of being drunk, including driving while impaired, have caused appearance of the Driving While Impaired (DWI) courts, also called the sobriety courts. Most DWI courts are based on the model of a drug court. Such courts aim not only to punish the offender, but also to treat the problem, as punishment cannot change people’s behavior. The courts were created in order to protect the safety of people and to reduce recidivism by addressing the impaired driving cause (substance abuse and alcohol). The main goal of DWI courts is to treat the victims of DWI offenders fairly, to make offenders accountable for their actions, to educate the public concerning sobriety benefits and the DWI Courts (Tauber & Huddleston, 1999). The DWI courts emphasize their work on reduction of drunk driving.
Being in effect specialized dockets, the DWI courts are reputed to have better equipment to deal with DWI cases which leads to backlog reduction, swift resolutions, and improvement of outcomes. Judges follow the idea that the DWI courts should be allowed to use treatment resources; experienced judges should have the right to sentence, sanction, or reward (Robertson & Simpson, 2002).
The main features of the DWI courts are the intensive treatment of alcohol addiction and heavy court supervision including jail sentences which are considered to be a last resort. Treatment compliance is verified by drug and alcohol testing, close supervision of community, and intercommunication with the judge in the court hearings which are non-adversarial. In case the offender fails the test which is done twice a week, he may be oblidged to be tested every day. A great number of DWI offenders are not only alcohol addicts, but also suffer from various mental health disorders which occur as the result of alcoholism. That is why it is very important for the court to select and implement an appropriate strategy to ensure a long-term success.
When a person is arrested for driving under the alcohol influence, he/she is evaluated and it is decided whether a DWI court can help in a certain case. Each offender of DWI court works with a team which includes a probation officer, a treatment provider, a police officer and others, and cooperates with the team during the treatment program that lasts for 18 months. Teamwork makes this court different form the typical system of jurisdiction. All people involved are concentrated on helping the offender give up the addiction. DWI Courts tend to focus on positive reinforcement and offer such incentives as applause for defendants and gift cards. Partnership enhances support, credibility, and broadens resources. The court also solicits the cooperation with community organizations and agencies in order to form a partnership and move towards the goal of the DWI court program.
The list of 68 DWI courts was provided by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. All of them are dockets which are essentially specialized. In 2004, the courts were contacted and asked to provide information concerning their establishment year, the types and volume of cases heard and the rate of recidivism. As the result, 5 of the courts appeared not to function like DWI courts reducing the list to 63 courts.
The majority of sobriety courts was developed from drug courts. However, seven of the DWI courts were established separately. In spite of the fact that over a third of the drug courts are in California, Missouri, Florida, and New York, some of the DWI courts are in Idaho, Michigan, and Indiana. Such courts are not typical for the states with a high number of fatalities which are alcohol related.
The DWI courts are comparatively new as they were established after 1994, except the Hancock County, DUI Program of the Los Angeles Superior Court, Indiana, established in 1971. Forty courts (out of 63) were established in year 2000 and later.
Offenses of DWI courts are not perceived as being victimless due to the fact that public safety is an important issue and the impact of community should be taken into consideration while designing the system of DWI Courts. It is rather difficult to monitor DWI offenders as alcohol goes quickly through the body and is hard to be detected. Easy access to alcohol also adds to the problem.
The DWI courts face a lot of issues including the resources for the DWI court support, the role of judges, ways to measure the DWI court effectiveness. It is difficult for judges to be impartial as they are involved with the defendants; they have to give praise to the defendants avoiding personal involvement (Flango). Judge is a team leader and his role is the most important in the success of the DWI court program. The judge of such a court should be committed to the program participants’ sobriety, have very good knowledge and skills in behavioral science, have skills of leadership, and be capable to motivate members of the team. That is why judges are very thoroughly selected to be the team leaders of the DWI court.
The statistics shows that the DWI courts are effective and it explains the fact that the head of the National Highway traffic Safety Administration takes a very active part in the promotion of such courts in the USA. These innovative programs of the DWI courts implement new strategies with the aim to improve outcomes and to reduce the offenders’ burden which they have on the system of criminal justice and correctional institutions.