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Palm Beach County To Launch DUI Diversion Program

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Following in the footsteps of Miami-Dade's highly successful "Back On Track" program for first-time DUI offenders, Palm Beach County is about to launch a DUI diversion program of its own.

From what I understand about the program so far, there will be two levels, or tiers, just like Miami-Dade's Back On Track program. The tiers will likely be determined by whether the DUI case is a refusal or a breath case. Typically, the less stringent conditions go to the breath cases as a "reward" for submitting to the breath test.

Unlike Back On Track in which a participant must complete the program in order to receive a withhold of adjudication to an amended charge of reckless driving, Palm Beach's diversion program requires the participant to plead guilty to reckless driving up front and then be placed on probation for a specified period of time. During that probationary period, the participant must complete conditions that would be similar to DUI probation. These conditions may include community service hours, fines, DUI school, a substance abuse evaluation with treatment if necessary, a session of the Victim Impact Panel, and a vehicle immobilization (impoundment).

One catch is that if the participant violates the probation, a suspended jail sentence of 90 days will be imposed upon the court's finding that the probation violation was wilfull and substantial.

This would obviously mean that prior to entering the program, the participant would agree to the 90-day sentence should they violate probation.

In my experience representing DUI clients in Miami-Dade and having them enroll in and complete Back On Track, most clients are able to fulfill the conditions. In fact, I have yet to have a client fail to complete the program.

DUI diversion is a good opportunity for first-time DUI offenders. I believe that all people, at some point in their lives, have driven a car after consuming too much alcohol. It's poor judgment, but we are all human and have all underestimated our true level of intoxication prior to driving. Doesn't mean you're a bad person for drinking and driving. It just means that you made a mistake. But one mistake - especially your first - should not undo all of the good you have done in your life. Good people get DUIs. Doctors, lawyers, college professors. I've seen them all.

DUI diversion programs permit first-time offenders to receive education on the dangers of drinking and driving while allowing them to go on with their lives without DUI convictions on their records or the stigma that comes with them.

Eric Matheny is a DUI attorney serving Miami and Broward.