MIAMI (CBS4) – Mothers Against Drunk Driving has adopted a 'wait-and-see' attitude toward a new Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office initiative which would keep first time 'non-crash' DUI offenders out of jail.
On Monday defense attorneys who were ready to put up a strong defense were greeted with a letter from state prosecutors about the new rules which would allow first time offenders who qualified to be enrolled in a substance abuse rehab program. 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."
"This is the first time we'll have it in Miami, and if it doesn't 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.
But critics say it's a departure from the tough stance the state attorney's office once took on DUI cases.
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. "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."
The state attorney's office issued some details of the program to determine eligibility.
To be eligible, an offender must meet the following requirments:
-- Not have a prior alcohol-related driving record that got dismissed.
-- No previous dangerous driving record (such as Leaving the Scene of an accident, reckless driving, or multiple egregious moving infractions).
-- Defendant must not be at fault in the accident.
-- No minor children in the car.
-- Person is ineligible if he or she was driving on a suspended license.
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