10 Years’ Probation for a Sixth DUI – Can It Ever Work?

Probation for DUI - bad idea or second chance?Probation for DUI is the kind of decision that gets plenty of catcalls from the bleachers. And in this case, a woman in Aspen, Colorado was sentenced to 10 years’ probation for her sixth DUI.

She’ll spend 90 days in jail, after which she’ll undergo treatment and begin her probation.

The prosecution had argued that she’d received probation for her previous DUIs, and had undergone treatment, to no permanent effect. She’d clearly earned a prison sentence. Probation would just be another slap on the wrist.

The probation officer’s case was just as emphatic: prison offers no opportunities for alcoholics to recover.

Repeat Drunk Driving: Offense, Symptom, or Both?

DUI cases are troublesome because they exist on the crossroads of law and pathology. Drunk drivers are breaking the law, but serial repeat offenders are usually in the grip of a disease. Over the past century, the pendulum has swung from a tolerance of drunk driving – for decades it was considered an unavoidable consequence of social life – to a rigid intolerance that considers alcohol dependency a matter of personal choice and nothing else.

Courts do their best to balance the need for justice with an understanding that the offender often has an alcohol problem that is going to make recidivism likely.

Sobriety Court Plus Interlock = Winning Combination

A few years ago Michigan found great success combining sobriety court – a probation involving treatment and close supervision and monitoring – and an ignition interlock. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The idea is to hold the victim accountable, but provide a structure in which he or she could deal with the alcohol problem. The difference is that the interlock kept the offender from driving drunk, so the public was protected in the event that there was a slip. The supervisor also reviewed the test data from the interlock, along with rehab reports, to ensure that the offender was complying with the program and not attempting to drink and drive. The success rate in Michigan was above 90 percent.

In this case, the judge took the probation officer’s recommendation and gave the defendant probation for DUI,with the understanding that another offense will result in her finishing her sentence behind bars. It makes sense: it will cost the state less, and give an offender a chance to get her life together.

But will it keep the public safe? That depends.

Recovery Court can work, if it’s well administrated and supervised, and if it includes an ignition interlock requirement. While the offender is undergoing treatment, the public is assured that he or she cannot get behind the wheel after drinking. Slip-ups do happen during rehab. They don’t need to turn into drunk driving incidents, and with an ignition interlock, they won’t.