Central Texas Set to Start DWI Court

Williamson County, just north of Austin, Texas, is set to start its DWI and Drug Court in November. In a departure from typical penalties, it will offer a rehabilitative program to those repeatedly arrested for DWI offenses or possession of marijuana.

Participants will be required to submit to regular drug testing and participate in counseling. In addition they will be under strict
probation supervision and forced to install an alcohol detection ignition interlock system in their car.

The special DWI court will meet weekly and address about 40 offenders each session. The function of the DWI court is to rehabilitate rather than punish, with the goal of initiating a positive change in behavior.

To enter the program, those arrested for DWI must plead guilty or no contest to their charges. Failure to complete the program would result in the resurrection of the original charges. If they complete the program they face a reduced punishment.

When the DWI court was conceived the intent was to reward participants who successfully completed the program by dropping the charges. The Texas Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving did not like that idea, citing difficulty in identifying habitual repeat offenders. In a compromise struck between court officials, prosecutors and Texas DWI defense attorneys, those completing the program will end up with a lesser Class B misdemeanor conviction on their record.

The director of MADD-Texas, Karen Housewright, supports the revised program. "The idea of required treatment and required regular contact with the judge in front of their peers is an approach we support," she said. "We couldn’t be more in favor of programs that really get at the heart of the problem."

The Williamson County DWI/Drug Court was partially funded with a grant from the governor’s Criminal Justice Division. The court will convene on November 13.

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