One of the main worries of individuals who are facing a driving under the influence (DUI) charge is the effect the charge will have on that driver’s long-term record.
These worries can happen if this is the driver’s first DUI charge, but even more so if the driver is suffering from the disease of alcoholism. Many times, in fact, if the person who was arrested for the DUI is an alcoholic, the normal criminal charges are not considered “enough” in terms of treating the actual disease and ensuring that no future violations happen.
This is where the concept of “deferred prosecution” comes into play.
What Is Deferred Prosecution?
Deferred prosecution is a legal option available for defendants who believe that alcohol abuse or a related disease is the cause for the criminal violation. Deferred prosecution involves an agreement the defendant enters into with the court whereby he or she agrees to complete a drug and alcohol treatment program, along with other strict requirements, to avoid a DUI conviction.
The option of deferred prosecution is only available for individuals who believe that alcoholism, drug addiction or a mental health illness has caused the behavior that led to the initial arrest.
If a defendant seeks this option, he or she is placed under oath and must allege that the criminal conduct for which he or she is being charged is “the result of or caused by substance use disorders or mental problems for which the person is in need of treatment and unless treated the probability of future recurrence is great.” RCW 10.05.020.
The defendant must also agree to pay the cost of diagnosis and treatment if he or she is financially able to afford these costs.
Conditions Associated with Deferred Prosecution
Deferred prosecution is not something to be entered into lightly. It is a program that requires strict compliance with a number of conditions, including the following:
- The defendant shall not operate a motor vehicle on public highways without both a valid driver’s license and proof of liability insurance, the amount of which will be established by the court;
- The court shall also order the installation of an ignition interlock device on any vehicle driven by the defendant;
- The court may also order that the defendant make restitution and pay costs associated with the criminal charges;
- Normally, the court will order that the defendant attend drug and/or alcohol abuse treatment, attend self-help support groups for alcoholism or drugs, as well as random drug screening to ensure that the defendant is no longer using.
Deferred prosecution programs normally last for two-years. The court may terminate the program upon violation of any of the conditions of the deferred prosecution order. Deferred prosecution is a once in a lifetime type of program, meaning that it cannot be offered a second time. If the defendant fails to meet any of the conditions of the order, he or she will face the original DUI charges.
The case will be dismissed no sooner than three years after successful completion of the treatment program but no less than five years after the defendant entered the deferred prosecution with the court.
This dismissal will keep the DUI from appearing on the defendant’s criminal record as a conviction. Many courts will require that the individual continue to attend at least two self-help meetings weekly for the full five-year duration, but not all require this.
Why Is Deferred Prosecution Important?
If someone is truly suffering from the disease of alcoholism, the odds of that person relapsing at least more than once is high, especially if the person is never treated. Alcoholism is a disease that is never considered “cured,” but the person who considers themselves cured of the disease is actually in recovery.
For these individuals, simply going to jail is not always a helpful option when, in fact, treatment would work much better in terms of fixing the original cause for why the offense happened.
However, the consequences of not successfully completing the program should be discussed at length with the defendant’s criminal attorney before any agreement is made to enter into a deferred prosecution. If the defendant truly believes that he or she can be successful in the program and not face further consequences down the road should the program not be successful, it could be a viable option to at least be considered.