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DWI Courts in Minnesota

An Alternative to Jail for Repeat DWI Offenders

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A common belief among Minnesota judges is while most drivers convicted of a first DWI will never get a second one, the majority of those charged with a second DWI, will be arrested for a third.

Many problem drinkers – those defined as serious, habitual abusers of alcohol – are undeterred by punishment and continue to drive drunk. To address the problem of the repeat DWI offender, many counties in Minnesota have implemented special DWI courts.

DWI courts are specialized, post-conviction court programs that provide individual treatment, supervision and accountability for repeat DWI offenders. Attendees who successfully complete an intensive DWI court program may receive early discharge from probation and have the jail component of their sentences significantly reduced or eliminated.

DWI courts aim to reduce recidivism in DWI cases by identifying and addressing underlying causes, such as addiction and mental health disorders.

Unlike the traditional adversarial court process, DWI courts employ a team approach where judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, law enforcement, probation officers, treatment providers and other community members work collaboratively offering both support and accountability to DWI court participants.

DWI court moderators are in regular contact with participants and can therefore respond swiftly to violations with graduated sanctions. These sanctions are designed to correct the offender’s behavior, not solely to punish. DWI courts also encourage and reward positive behavior in an effort to establish long-term change, making recidivism less likely to occur.

In Hennepin County, DWI Court is administered in four phases. Participants must make regular appearances before a designated DWI Court judge, are subject to regular “visits” at home or work by law enforcement and probation and are placed on a curfew. Participants receive treatment and counselling, are regularly tested for drugs and alcohol, and must attend community self-help support and sponsorship meetings. Additionally, all DWI Court participants must either be employed, seeking employment, or attending school. The four phases include:

Phase One (minimum duration – 3 months)

  • Courtroom reviews every week (minimum of 13 reviews);
  • Probation meetings as directed;
  • Minimum of 3 treatment, aftercare, and/or community self- help support meetings;
  • Random alcohol and drug tests;
  • Seek/maintain employment or enroll/remain in school;
  • Random home visits;
  • Meet with a community self-help support sponsor once a week;
  • Observe curfew.

Phase Two (minimum duration – 9 months)

  • Courtroom review once every two weeks (minimum of 19 reviews);
  • Probation meetings as directed;
  • Random alcohol and drug test;
  • Maintain employment/education;
  • Continue program activities and participate in a cognitive-behavioral group;
  • Random home visits;
  • Continue to attend community self-help support and sponsorship meetings;
  • Observe curfew
  • Complete Sentence to Serve (STS – monitored community service)
  • Attend a MADD Victim Impact Panel

Phase Three (minimum duration – 6 months)

  • Attend judicial reviews each month (minimum of 6 reviews);
  • Meet with probation as directed;
  • Submit to random alcohol and drug screening;
  • Maintain employment and/or education;
  • Continue all other program activities;
  • Be available for random home visits;
  • Continue community self-help support and sponsorship meetings;
  • Observe a curfew
  • Pay fines and fees by the time of graduation from Phase Three.

Phase four (2 years)

Prior to being discharged from probation, DWI Participants are placed on administrative probation for two years and subject to less intensive supervision and reporting requirements.

In late 2011, the Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety hired a private research firm to conduct an assessment of Minnesota’s DWI courts and answer the question, ‘Do DWI courts work?’

The results of the study indicated that DWI courts in Minnesota:

  • Reduced recidivism rates by up to 69%;
  • Had completion rates above the national average;
  • Were most effective among high-risk participants
  • Showed an average yearly savings to the taxpayer of $700,000.00; and
  • Produced a return of up to 3-to-1 for every dollar invested in DWI court due to cost savings resulting from lower recidivism.

More recently, a 2015 newsletter from the National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC) analyzed several studies from across the United States and found that DWI courts are critical in eliminating traffic fatalities, reducing DWI cases and enhancing public health and safety. The NCDC concluded that DWI courts:

“…produce benefits, both tangible and intangible, which extend beyond crime reduction and cost savings. Transitioning a repeat DWI offender into sustained recovery means more than just reduced recidivism. Recovery also leads to healthier families, better work productivity, fewer people on public assistance, fewer medical costs, and numerous other benefits to communities, families, and individuals.”

If you find yourself facing DWI or OWI charges and need to explore your options including DWI Court and getting your driving privileges restored, our seasoned lawyers can help. Attorneys are available 24-7 — Call us at 612-334-3342.

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