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DUI Diversion Program Unveiled For First-Time Offenders

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MIAMI (CBS4) – A controversial new initiative is expected to go into effect soon which will keep first-time drunk drivers out of jail or even have their cases dismissed.

These first-time drunk drivers may qualify for a reduced charge if they complete a new program that includes alcohol awareness classes, seek treatment and pay fines.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office will begin offering the “Back on Track” in the next couple of weeks. Officials say drivers are eligible only if the DUI didn’t involve a wreck or another crime, and if they have a clean driving record. Participants must pay between $2,000 and $3,000 in court fines and fees.

Prosecutors can seek enhanced charges if the defendant is ever arrested on additional DUI charges.

Defense lawyer Richard Hersch told CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald the program is beneficial because many first-time DUI’s involve people making stupid mistakes. However, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and some police officers oppose the program.

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.”

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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