In recent years, juvenile impaired driving has been one of the most publicized social issues facing the nation. Almost all state legislatures have lowered the BAC threshold for youths and increased the penalties imposed against impaired drivers in general; police have increased the number of DUI arrests; and citizensí groups such as MADD and SADD have called for the prosecution of offenders to the fullest extent of the law. Increased enforcement by police has resulted in an increase in arrests, which in turn has flooded the courts with an influx of DUI and related cases. Unfortunately, the courts are seldom equipped to handle that many cases.
From an enforcement standpoint, prosecutors now have at their disposal new evidentiary aids and rulings from the courts that have shaped the way DUI cases are presented to the courts. In addition, prosecutors working with members of the judiciary have developed new strategies dealing specifically with juvenile offenders.
Prosecutorís Pre-Trial Conference
This program operates in many jurisdictions throughout the country. Each juvenile charged for the first time with either a DUI or minor-in-possession offense is given an opportunity, along with his or her parents or guardian, to meet with the prosecutor to discuss a plea agreement. Most first-time offenders will agree to the recommendations of the prosecutor rather than request a hearing before a judge. If the juvenile fails to appear or is subsequently arrested for a second or third offense, the case is referred directly to juvenile court. In most cases the prosecutor then requires the defendant to participate in an alcohol- and drug-screening program, as well as attend an alcohol or other drug education and treatment program, as part of the plea agreement. Supervised probation and community service are additional options in many localities.
This program has been operating successfully in Phoenix, where it has reduced the amount of time a prosecutor spends preparing a case. In addition, it has significantly reduced the juvenile courtís DUI and minor-in-possession trial docket. In Hampton, the pre-trial conference results in the increased presence and input of police in the prosecutorial process. Previously, police officers would often appear for trial only to learn that the case had been disposed of. The pre-trial conference has led to increased police confidence in prosecution and increased enforcement against juvenile offenders.
Misdemeanors, including DUI and minor-in-possession cases, are brought before the court by a police officer who is cross-trained in the role of a prosecutor. The police-prosecutor holds a full-time position and has an office located in the police department. Candidates are selected from a pool of qualified officers and receive extensive training before prosecuting a case in court.
Allowing the police to function as prosecutors of minor offenses is a practice that dates back to colonial times in Massachusetts. It is still practiced there in many communities. Criminal justice officials there feel this approach serves the public interest better because it fosters a closer relationship between the victim and the prosecutor, as well as the accused. Enabling legislation grants the lower (juvenile or municipal) courts the authority to handle misdemeanor cases in this manner. For most jurisdictions, adopting such an innovation would require a change in state law.
DUI Video Program
This program was implemented by the Hampton Police Department as a tool to assist officers during the trials of suspected impaired drivers. Under this program, a video camera is mounted in a patrol unit and is used to record the actions of a suspected impaired driver during the sobriety testing phase of the traffic stop. According to the police, the program is an extremely valuable addition and has received the support of the public and the acceptance of the courts.