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DUI Diversion Program Gets House Go-Ahead

Courtroom bench

A House panel on Monday approved a proposal that would require the creation of a statewide diversion program to prod drunken drivers into substance-abuse treatment. 

The bill (HB 1145), sponsored by Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indialantic, would require each judicial circuit to establish a uniform program that would allow first-time DUI offenders to get a lesser charge of reckless driving if they complete a series of requirements. For instance, they would be required to participate in the program for a year without using alcohol or drugs and would need to complete a substance-abuse course and perform community service.

Florida does not have a uniform model for a DUI diversion program, but various judicial circuits have established their own programs, each with unique requirements, costs and durations. Altman’s bill would require all judicial circuits to have the same rules and procedures for the program, which some members of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee were concerned about before approving the bill.

For example, Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, said he did not see the need to establish a statewide diversion program if many state attorneys already have similar programs.

“I think it is a good idea, but it seems like it is a good idea that is already in practice,” Roach said. Nancy Daniels, a former Tallahassee-area public defender who represented the Florida Public Defender Association, shared the same concerns, saying several programs are working well and should not be changed.

The bill would also require all vehicles owned or leased by offenders to be impounded for 10 days. Rep. Michael Gottlieb, R-Davie, said he was concerned the mandate could potentially leave family members of offenders without a car.

To be eligible for the program, an offender could not have prior felony convictions or drug- or alcohol-related traffic offenses. If they were involved in crashes while driving drunk or if they were accompanied by minors, they would not be able to participate in the program. If offenders fail to complete the program, state attorneys would have the authority to file criminal charges.

An identical bill Senate bill (SB 1396), sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.