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South Dakota’s Progressive New DUI Court Part of a Statewide Judicial Reform

Jeff Cole
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Partner at Zimmer, Duncan & Cole

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One of the many issues that is brought to the public’s attention about repeat DUI offenders is that many of these men and women suffer from alcoholism. Since alcoholism is considered a disease, many wonder if prison sentences do more harm than good, punishing the crime rather than addressing the root cause of the problematic behavior.

To answer these cries, South Dakota’s judicial system came up with an answer a few years ago—DUI court. In a statewide judicial makeover of sorts, several counties in South Dakota have begun DUI court programs for non-violent chronic offenders.

Unlike prison sentences or other treatment programs where offenders could passively wait out their time, DUI court participants meet weekly for 18 to 24 months, and are expected to undergo regular blood-alcohol tests, attend treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, and engage in regular progress reports with the court.

If participants do not follow the strict rules of their DUI court program, they will face the standard prison sentences associate with their crimes. The name of the game in this program is accountability, an idea that is lacking in standard sentencing procedures.

South Dakota feels like the support, guidance, and strict standards are what makes the DUI court program successful. Participants are expected to fund their own program costs if they are able to work, and many now boast several months of sobriety, which they attribute to the DUI court program.

Part of what makes this program so successful, supporters say, is that it focuses on reintegration and rehabilitation rather than punishment, a method that has failed chronic offenders time and time again. By building life skills centered on an alcohol-free life, many believe that the program offers participants a chance to build a foundation that they lacked before due to their alcohol-dependence.

What are your thoughts about these programs? Will they work better than a prison sentence, or do chronic offenders deserve some time behind bars? Share your thoughts below, or start a conversation by sharing this article with your social media network!


Category: Criminal Defense


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