Hillsborough considers diversion program for some DUI drivers

- Having a DUI on your record can be emotionally and professionally devastating, but there's an idea being floated around the legal community that's caught the attention of the top prosecutor in Hillsborough County.

Only two months into the job, State Attorney Andrew Warren is considering a bold new program when it comes to DUI offenders

"Whether the programs work; do they reduce recidivism? Do they reduce the incidents of DUI? " Warren asked.

Warren is evaluating whether a DUI diversion program is the way to go.  This is how it works: Defendants get the chance to skip a trial and avoid a criminal record.  But the driver doesn't walk away scot-free; the offender is required to take driving classes, alcohol treatment programs, and pay fines.

It has worked in other areas, like Miami-Dade, Orlando and Palm Beach.  One circuit court even allows drivers to donate money to MADD or other community groups as part of their diversion program.

"DUI is a very serious crime here but it’s also the type of crime where people make mistakes and we are willing to give people a second chance, especially when they’re first-time offenders. So we're evaluating whether it works," Warren explained.

Not everyone would qualify for this huge break.  For instance, a driver has to be a first-time offender with a valid license, there can't be kids or animals in the car,  and the offense can’t result in a crash.

Critics wonder if cutting a defendant a break today could lead to the same drunk driver killing someone on road tomorrow.

"The most important thing is getting them treatment and making sure they are not going to commit the same crime again," continued Warren.

Warren is still gathering stats from other counties to see if the program really works.  He has not said whether or not he plans to implement the program in Hillsborough County.

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