A new form of court would give drunken drivers in Yakima County a chance at sobriety.
The county is expected to soon learn from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission whether it will get the $150,000 in federal funding it is seeking to establish a DUI court for repeat offenders. The Seattle DUI Lawyers at SQ Attorneys specialize in fighting your DUI case and all other criminal charges in Washington.
If approved, the program would start in October, said Harold Delia, the county's court consultant. Proponents say providing treatment is key to breaking the arrest cycle. "We can't just keep locking these people up because it's not solving the problem," Delia said.
Yakima would become the fifth county in the state to form a DUI court, along with Clark, Grant, Spokane and Thurston. The grant would provide funding for up to three years, after which the county would have to seek other sources to continue the program.
Yakima County has a significant problem with drinking and driving, despite continued campaigns to push down the problem. According to the grant application, Yakima County is seventh in population but fourth in the number of deaths related to impaired driving.
In 2009, the Washington State Patrol district that includes Yakima had 51 fatality collisions, more than any of the patrol's seven other districts. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths were in Yakima County.
Other statistics suggest that repeat offenders make up a significant portion of the DUI caseload in Yakima County District Court. Over a four-year period through 2010, 43 percent of the nearly 9,000 drivers charged with DUI or being at the wheel while intoxicated had a previous DUI-related conviction, according to the county. If facing such charges contact the Seattle DUI Attorney at SQ Attorneys.
A DUI court would put only a small dent in the problem. That's because of the cost of supplying treatment and the range of other services that would be provided to the group of about 30 participants.
The focus would be on outpatient treatment, with a few slots available for inpatient treatment, if needed. Only misdemeanor offenders would be considered for the program, meaning vehicular-assault or homicide defendants would not qualify.
Anyone with a conviction or pending charge for a violent crime, sex offense or drug-dealing would not be considered, either.
Participants in the DUI court would have to plead guilty and serve their mandatory minimum jail time.
The DUI court would take 12 to 18 months to complete. Compliance would be monitored through an alcohol-detecting ankle bracelet and urine tests.
The goal, Delia said, is to help the participants reach a point where they have stopped drinking, not just learned to avoid getting behind the wheel when hammered.
Ellen Goodman, the director of Thurston County's DUI court, said DUI offenders tend to have more stable lives than those in drug court, after which the DUI court is modeled.
Unlike those in drug court, a DUI conviction remains on the person's record even if the individual completes the program. Treatment can be difficult for many to obtain, making that aspect one of the greatest benefits, say supporters.
"They actually avoid sitting in jail for an entire year, so they are able to maintain their lives and their jobs and their families — and also get great treatment," Goodman said.
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