DUI Courts

What is a DUI/DWI Court?

DUI courts are a type of collaborative court that provide individualized treatment and supervision to defendants with repeat DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while impaired) charges. Based off the successful drug court model, DUI courts provide an alternative to a traditional method of incarceration through a system of supervision, accountability, and rehabilitative treatment. The goal of a DUI/DWI court is to:

  • reduce traffic fatalities and limit impaired driving; and,
  • support defendant’s return to society by addressing underlying substance use disorders and mental health issues.

How do they work?

  • DUI/DWI Courts target individuals that have a significant history of criminal behavior and/or substance use dependency and who are motivated to change their behavior.
  • Individuals are identified for involvement in a DUI court through a clinical assessment.
    • All participants voluntarily consent to their involvement.
  • DUI courts use a structure of case management based in intensive supervision/monitoring and individual accountability.
    • Risk assessment tools are utilized to determine appropriate case management.
  • Case management is provided by a team of professionals; teams are typically comprised of members of the justice system, mental health providers, and other support systems.
  • The judge oversees the treatment and supervision process and facilitates collaboration among team members.
    • The judge should be deeply committed to the DUI/DWI Court model and their leadership role in the process.

The National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC), which is a leading organization in the promotion of DUI/DWI courts, published a list of 10 Guiding Principles of DWI Courts. These principles provide a set of criteria and guidelines for new or pre-existing DUI/DWI courts.

Are DUI/DWI Courts effective?

Yes, research is promising. While DWI courts are a relatively recent development, research has shown DUI/DWI are mirroring the success of drug courts. Specifically, a 2011 study of Michigan’s DUI courts found that program participants were 18 times less likely to be re-arrested for a DWI offense than non-participants. Another 2011 study from Georgia found that participants in its state DUI courts had recidivism rates of 15% compared to 34% of those who went through the traditional incarceration system. Furthermore, a study analyzing a DUI court program in San Joaquin found that program participants had lower rates of substance-related accidents as well as lower arrest rates, highlighting the positive safety impacts of DUI courts. Research has also suggested that DUI courts may also be more cost effective than its traditional counterpart. Because DUI courts are a recent development, continued research is necessary for greater understanding of their impacts and results.