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Study deems Minnesota's DWI courts a success

With harsh penalties including possible jail or prison time, suspension of one's driver's license and costly fines; a drunk driving conviction is a serious criminal offense. However, despite the possible repercussions, DWI or DUI arrests are common in many states including Minnesota.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, during 2012 alone, more than 28,000 drivers in Minnesota were arrested for DWI. As of 2012, state reports also indicate there were more than 69,000 residents who had been arrested and convicted of DWI three times and more than 12,000 who were considered five-time DWI offenders.

For an individual who is struggling with underlying or obvious alcohol or substance abuse issues, spending time behind bars will likely only serve to exacerbate the problem. As an alternative to prison, repeat DWI offenders in Minnesota may go through one of the state's DWI court programs.

One of the state's largest DWI courts is located in Hennepin County, where individuals deemed to be high-risk for recidivism and high-need for treatment are served. The results of a national study proved that by focusing on treatment, therapy and counseling; Minnesota's DWI courts have been successful in saving the state money and, more importantly, in helping individuals obtain the help and treatment they need.

Unlike many drugs, alcohol is legal and its consumption is often widely accepted in both business-related and social settings. Many repeat DWI offenders are successful professionals. Demographic data related to repeat DWI offenders in Minnesota show that the majority are white, male and an average age of 38. Additionally, many have college degrees and good paying jobs.

Rather than focus on punishment, DWI courts focus on treatment and changing an individual’s behavior. Individuals must qualify to participate in DWI court treatment programs and often are required to commit to at least a one-year program.

For repeat DWI offenders, a prison sentence could be devastating to one’s personal and professional life. A criminal defense attorney can defend against DWI charges and, when appropriate, assist in helping an individual meet requirements to enter an alternative DWI court treatment program.

Source: Star Tribune, "Minnesota's specialty courts for chronic drunken drivers reduce recidivism and costs, national study finds," David Chanen, Nov. 20, 2014

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