Adjudication and Diversion

Increased public awareness of impaired drivers can swamp the local judiciary with new cases. Unfortunately, the vast majority of juvenile and adult court systems are ill equipped to handle a larger caseload of juvenile DUI arrestees.

The criminal justice system has begun to employ a number of new approaches in juvenile and municipal courts to relieve the burden that might result from a large volume of DUI arrests. Many practitioners feel the simplest and most efficient course is to divert these cases from the courts. Myriad diversion programs are sprinkled throughout the nation’s criminal justice systems. During the information-gathering phase of this project, PERF located successful programs housed in police departments, prosecutors’ offices, and courts.

In 1983, the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving addressed the critical issue of diversion. The commission recommended that “pre-conviction diversion” to alcohol education or alcohol treatment programs be eliminated in favor of harsher sanctions. However, some states and many private professional and advocacy groups disagree. They believe sanctions can be effectively combined with diversion programs that address the underlying problems that cause juveniles to drink and drive. Perhaps the best approach is to provide a mix of treatment and punitive sanctions.

PERF found that in many jurisdictions, officials strongly support a court finding on the DUI or other charge. Subsequently, the court should require participation in some type of education or treatment program as a condition of the sentence. Likewise, charges should not be dismissed after the juvenile has satisfactorily completed participation in a prescribed diversion program. Such an approach could undermine the objective of both enforcement and treatment, because the first offender would be likely to receive as punishment only a requirement to attend an educational program or a comparable sanction. Meaningful deterrence requires that a hard line be taken so that offenders may be sanctioned (license suspension, fines, etc.) and then motivated to participate in treatment.

Police-Based Diversion

One of the most common forms of diversion is the police-based program that historically is housed in the department’s youth bureau. Its objective is to remove youths from the criminal justice system. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the goal of the Police Youth Bureau is to combine consequential and therapeutic approaches in working with young people who have been referred through law enforcement, school, juvenile court, the family, or self-referral. A key ingredient to the success of this program is the intense supervision it affords the child. This includes screening for alcohol and other drug problems, intake, probation, education programs, treatment alternatives, and case management.

The Bismarck diversion program indicated that cases remain with the police department youth bureau and are only referred up through the system after each of the lower-level steps has been tried and has failed. Another unique aspect of this program is that education and treatment for the child and the family are provided by bureau staff. A child who offends again is reevaluated and may be offered participation in the Minor in Possession Level II (MIP II) treatment program, which combines education and awareness with pre-evaluation for juvenile offenders, if he or she has not already gone through the class. The MIP II class combines education and awareness with pre-evaluation for juvenile offenders and is discussed in the next chapter. However, depending on various factors, staffers may forward the case to the juvenile court for a hearing.

Juvenile court judges rarely hear a juvenile DUI case in their courtrooms under this system. Only the most chronic offender who needs extensive inpatient treatment comes before the court. The youth bureau commander reports diverting over 400 minor-in-possession cases from the juvenile court docket in 1996. This aggressive program could not exist without cooperation among the police, prosecutor, and judiciary.

Bismarck’s statistics indicate that from 1991 to 1996, juvenile DUI citations decreased by 35 percent. Another source of satisfaction has been the degree of cooperation among the various disciplines involved, directly or indirectly, in the program. This is particularly true regarding the relationships among schools, probation, and the police. Most of the funding required for the Bismarck program is provided by the city council. Other sources include contractual service agreements with other jurisdictions, along with grants, fees, and donations. The Bismarck experience recognizes that the juvenile justice system must remain flexible and maintain a high degree of cooperation between the police and the courts or suffer the consequences of an overburdened and costly adjudication process.

First-Offense, Community-Based Diversion

The Juvenile Conference Committee project in Bergen County, New Jersey, is designed as a first-offender diversion program for minors found in possession of alcohol. The committee is appointed by the local school board and the police department. In Mahwah, New Jersey, the committee is composed of a juvenile officer, a member of the clergy, a businessman, and a town council member. Conferences are informal and are held in the evening for the convenience of the parents, who must appear with the child.

Typically, first offenders for possession of alcohol must perform a community service project and write a research paper on alcohol (for example, about a visit with the medical examiner). Offenders who elect not to appear before the conference committee are scheduled for a hearing in juvenile court through family court. What makes this program unique is that it depends on the cooperation of community leaders from a number of different disciplines. Moreover, this unique program operates within the judicial system.

Court-Based Diversion

The juvenile offender and his or her family are brought before a traffic-hearing officer, an officer of the court who is appointed by a superior court judge. This approach affords the offender an opportunity to have a private hearing without going before a juvenile court judge. Numerous factors determine how many cases each hearing officer will preside over daily, but it is not unusual for one officer to hear more than 30 traffic cases per day, including DUI cases.

The use of traffic-hearing officers has done much to reduce the logjam once experienced in many of California’s juvenile courts. Judges are now able to focus more of their attention on violent offenders.