MIAMI (CBS4) – Many DUI offenders who walked into court Monday morning breathed a sigh of relief as a new initiative may keep them out of jail, or even allow them to have their cases dismissed.
Defense attorneys ready to put up a strong defense were greeted with a letter from state prosecutors stating that new rules would keep first-time DUI offenders in “non-crash” cases out of jail and into programs.
If they successfully complete those programs, they would likely receive a reckless driving charge without a conviction on their record.
“Before today, there was no break for first-time offenders,” said Justin Beckham, a DUI defense attorney in Miami. “There is no way to assess long term effects of this change. It’s a good day for my clients.”
But critics say it’s a departure from the tough stance the state attorney’s office once took on DUI cases.
The state attorney’s office has yet to define the exact details of the program, but on Monday DUI offenders were allowed to postpone their cases until the court determines if they are eligible for this program.
“This is the first time well have it in Miami, and if it doesnt work, we should throw it out,” said Janet Mondshein, Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Mondshein wants to see how the program works over the next year.
“We want to make sure that someone who has offended, and who has gone through that program, if that person reoffends, we want to be able to track,” said Mondshein.
State Attorney Spokesman Ed Griffith said that the new initiative was created because too many DUI cases “are dropped after witnesses fail to appear in court for trials.”
“When that happens, the deterrent effect of a DUI arrest is undercut by the fact that the offender suffers no consequence without a conviction,” Griffith said in a statement. “This is a step forward to bring more DUI offenders under the supervision of the law. Anyone who thinks this is a ‘departure from the tough stance that was once imposed on DUI offenders’ is lacking the facts. Letting offenders escape with no punishment due to a failure of witnesses to participate in the legal process is absolutely the worse message anyone could send. We’re sending the message that everyone should be held accountable.”