Impaired driving and our community

Since 1981, December has been recognized as National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. This presidential proclamation raises awareness of, and seeks to prevent, the acts of drunk driving, drugged driving, and distracted driving. Impaired driving is often deadly, with drunk driving itself factoring in thousands of traffic fatalities every year.

While the prevention of all impaired driving is important, there is a special need to address repeat DUI offenders. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that repeat DUI offenders are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than intoxicated drivers without prior convictions. And as the number of prior DUI arrests increases, a driver's fatal crash risk also goes up. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, there are over 2 million drivers in the United States with three or more drunk-driving convictions.

Residents of Montezuma County should be pleased to know that the Montezuma County DUI Court program has been targeting repeat DUI offenders since its inception in 2007. At that time, it was the second DUI Court to be created in the state. Since then, the number of DUI Courts in Colorado has increased to eight.

At its core, the Montezuma County DUI Court program is a collaborative effort to engage repeat DUI offenders in treatment and reduce their recidivism. A reduction in recidivism, particularly among this offender group, results in a safer community. Eligibility for the Montezuma County DUI Court program is limited to offenders who have been convicted of their third DUI or DWAI (driving while ability impaired). Like the other three specialty courts in this district, entry into the program is voluntary.

After being sentenced, DUI Court participants return to court on a regular basis (every two weeks at the beginning of the program) for two years to report to the Judge. Participants are expected to comply with a number of requirements: those imposed by the court in its sentencing order, terms and conditions of Probation, and the requirements of the DUI Court program. Foremost among the DUI Court requirements, participants must attend treatment, remain sober, and submit to random drug tests so their sobriety can be monitored.

Before the participants' review hearings, the DUI Court Team meets to discuss each participant's case. The DUI Court Team consists of the judge, a probation officer, a coordinator, and representatives from the District Attorney's Office, the local defense bar, and two treatment agencies. This professional diversity helps the DUI Court Team reach informed, balanced decisions. The Team recommends an appropriate response to each participant's behavior. The judge may rely on that recommendation when implementing a response at the participant's court hearing. The response may be an incentive, a sanction, or a change in treatment. The exact response depends on factors like the magnitude of participant's behavior, the participant's history in the program, and the participant's individual needs.

The Montezuma County DUI Court has had 26 graduates in its relatively short history (because it's a two-year program that started in May 2007, the first graduation did not occur until May 2009). Another 12 participants are currently active in the program. The graduation rate of the program is 57%, which is close to the state average of 61%. But it's important to note that even participants who are discharged unsuccessfully from DUI Courts show a reduction in recidivism. This is likely due to the significant amount of time (an average of 160 days in our DUI Court) that these unsuccessful participants spend in the program and treatment before being discharged.

Jurisdictions across the country have recognized the important role of specialty courts like our DUI Court in addressing alcohol abuse and dependence among DUI offenders. As a result, there are now almost 600 DUI Courts and DUI Hybrid Courts operating in the United States. National Impaired Driving Prevention Month reminds us that we must remain steadfast in our work towards the prevention of impaired driving. This includes the prevention of impaired driving among offenders with prior DUI convictions. We must hold these offenders accountable, but we must also seek to rehabilitate them through treatment. The Montezuma County DUI Court does both.

Jeremy Botkins is Specialty Court Coordinator for the 22nd Judicial District.