The main goal of DWI courts, is to eradicate instances of drunk driving, and to save lives and prevent property damage. These courts also are aimed at significantly reducing the number of drunk driving cases in the state of Minnesota. Repeat offenders are also kept under watch, which can help to reduce jail time significantly. Ramsay and Hennepin counties have the largest of the 16 DWI courts in the State of Minnesota. The other 14 are located in rural areas spread across the state. The advocates of these courts are very optimistic that with state backing these courts, additional courts will spread all over the state. Shaun Floerike, the 6th Judicial District Chief Judge who also runs the Duluth DWI court – is of the opinion that having no DWI court means jail is the inevitability for all drunk drivers.
The operation of DWI courts
The courts run what are commonly known as “diversion” programs. These programs are aimed at changing the behavior of the repeat offenders that are processed through the system. The threat of imprisonment, alcohol & drug testing, therapy and constant contact with police officers are some of the techniques used by these courts. A team headed by the DWI court judge, but which also includes officers, defense attorneys and prosecutors constantly monitor the repeat offenders to help them avoid another offense. Participation for at least one year is mandatory to pass the program successfully. DWI and drug courts differ a lot in many ways. For instance, the DWI courts have a higher number of white well-educated males, while the drug courts have uneducated, unemployed males who often have mental health issues.
Saving costs and reducing recidivism
According to a 2014 report, the State of Minnesota has saved about $1.4 million when DWI offenders have participated in this program. Recidivism rates have been reduced significantly, which leads to fewer convictions in future. As compared to normal courts, the conviction rate of a person who has graduated from DWI court is reduced significantly. This rate is even lower than the national average.
Each graduate of DWI court has saved anywhere from $1,694 to $11,386 within a year, in court costs or additional costs associated with these types of crimes, which is simply superb. Community and family relationships have been fostered. The healthcare costs have been reduced, and a sense of public safety prevails. There are definitely areas which still need improvement, as current studies have shown. Timely inclusions of offenders, the participation of defense and rural movement issues are some areas which are currently being analyzed and worked on. If the offenders need a DWI lawyer then resources can be available at a very nominal cost.
Funding cuts put DWI court in jeopardy
The state is at crossroads, with legislators deciding the budget which controls governmental judicial efforts, and includes DWI courts. A state of deadlock has urged the governor to threaten the participants of the process to halt funding of several other programs until the issue has been resolved. Governor Mark Dayton has asked for $1.7 million annually to ensure that the DWI courts run smoothly. The legislators have proposed only $100,000 in return, which to many is absurd.
Minnesota Supreme Court has expressed concern
Lorie Gildea, the chief justice of Minnesota Supreme Court, has expressed concerns that the budget setting process of the state does not consider public safety and security. Spending reductions for DWI courts will significantly impact the judicial system, and increase caseloads. The DWI courts have reduced recidivism rate by 70% which is well above the national average, and is something that should be continued.