Orange County has been on the cutting edge (if that’s what you can call it) of helping out folks who have made just one bad mistake. We call this cutting edge help “diversion”. And yes, I am guilty of stretching the term “cutting edge”, and I’m warning you now that this article may contain a few more cliched terms.
Anyway, Orange County was one of the first counties (out of 67 in Florida) to institute a DUI Diversion program. For those of you unfamiliar with “diversion”, its just a fancy term for an agreement with the prosecutor that goes something like this: “do a bunch of stuff, and we’ll drop your case.” You can find more information about Orange County’s DUI diversion program here, but the point is, it has taken Seminole County almost a decade to create DUI program of their own. The new program is creatively titled the “Seminole County First Time DUI Offender Program”.
Let’s start with the basics. Seminole County is careful not to call their new program “diversion”, because “diversion” means “dismissal”. So, it is not a diversion program. But, Seminole’s First Time DUI Offender Program does accomplish lots of positive things–it just doesn’t go all the way to dismissal.
I know what you’re thinking because every person charged with first time driving under the influence is thinking the same thing: “What’s going to happen to me?” Well, I’ll tell you. In Orange County, if you’re a DUI first offender, your case “may” get dismissed. Thrown out. Gone. Sure, it will take lots of work on your part, and your attorney’s part, but dismissal thru diversion is a very real possibility.
In Seminole County, the answer to the question “What’s going to happen to me on my first time DUI?” is not so simple.
Seminole County isn’t going to drop your case, as would happen with Orange County’s diversion. But, Seminole County will drop the DUI charge down to something lesser, called an Alcohol Related Reckless Driving. This is a beautiful thing. Its not the most beautiful thing ever, but its still a beautiful thing. As a bonus, you will not be convicted of this lesser reckless driving charge–meaning, you’ll receive a withhold of adjudication. Meaning, this case can be erased later (we call this “sealing”, and its a story for another day).
Now, entering Seminole’s DUI Program requires jumping thru several hoops before they’ll even consider you officially in the program. You’ll need to prove yourself. The reasoning behind this is simple: the prosecutors want to be sure that you’re serious about completing their program. To that end, before they accept you, you must do three things:
(1) enroll in the DUI School (completing it would be even better, but you’re only required to enroll in it)
(2) enroll in the Victim Awareness program or YouImpact online course (www.youimpact.com)
(3) Complete 20 hours of community service
If you fulfill these three tasks above within 60 days of signing the DUI First Offender Program contract, the prosecutor will let you into their program. Basically, once you’ve completed these pre-conditions, the prosecutor will drop your DUI down to a reckless driving, and you’ll receive the following sentence if you blew under a 0.150:
A withhold of adjudication (meaning no conviction), 6 months probation, $100 fine, $400 donation to Kids house of Seminole County, complete DUI School, complete DUI counseling (if recommended, and they always recommend counseling), complete Victim Awareness Panel or YouImpact, no alcohol allowed, and, submit to random drug and alcohol testing. Seminole County calls this their “Tier 1 DUI First Offender Program“.
If you blew over a 0.150, or refused to blow, Seminole County calls this their “Tier 2″ Program. Your DUI will still be reduced to a reckless driving, and you’ll still receive a withhold of adjudication, but the punishment increases to 9 months of probation (instead of 6 months), 50 hours community service (the 20 hours completed as a pre-condition count toward this 50 hours) and there will be a 10 day immobilization of your vehicle.
With all this good news floating about, you’re probably wondering–what’s the catch? Well, not everyone qualifies for this program. The prosecutors will evaluate program entrants on a case-by-case basis. That being said, there are at least seven things that will, definitely, keep you out of this program:
(1) if you blow over a 0.250, no program for you…
(2) no cases involving accidents
(3) no children in the car, no animals in the car
(4) no prior alcohol related offenses
(5) no prior diversion cases, or prior prison sentences (different ends of the spectrum, for sure)
(6) must have valid DL when DUI was received, anyone who gets arrested for DUI while driving on a suspended license doesn’t qualify
(7) no DUI cases that have a drug charge count, so if you get caught with weed during this DUI arrest, you’re disqualified (but, I’m told Seminole County may change its hard stance on this condition soon, we’ll see…)