Diversion Programs For First Time DUI Offenders

Interviewer:  Are there any diversion programs for first time DUI offenders that will help them avoid and mitigate some of the penalties they’re facing?

Ladan Law: In Orange and Osceola County, which we practice primarily and we also practice primarily in Seminole County, but they don’t offer this program, there is a diversion program for first time offenders. It is one of only a handful in the state and it is a huge resource for us. We’re former prosecutors. We know the folks that started this program. We know the supervisors that run it.

The program is for first time offenders, where in if you blow above .08, but lower than .149, you’re going to be considered for a tier one diversion program. It is a discretionary program by the state attorney’s office. They get to pick and choose who they allow to participate in this program. It is not a one-size-fits-all. If you meet these criteria, we will let you in. There is a significant amount of negotiation that happens to allow you to participate in the program, but once you’ve been accepted, you would do the first time minimum sanctions for a DUI.

I can discuss those with anybody that gives me a call at length about what the first time sanctions are. They are constantly changing. I don’t want to put anything into print that has changed, but if you’ll call my office I’ll let you know when you call what those sanctions are.

The beauty of the diversion program is once you complete those sanctions, the case will be dismissed. Then you have the option to expunge that later on, which is another separate process where you can physically remove the arrest from your arrest record. Your arrest reports are deleted from the public eye and you can lawfully say that you’ve never been arrested. That program is beautiful.

If you blow above a .150 or you refuse to blow into the Intoxilizer, you’re going to be considered for the tier two program. The end result is the same. If you get through that program and are accepted you can get your case dropped and go through the expungement process. There is a variety of higher fines, an interlock device and some additional sanctions when you blow above a .149 or refuse to blow into the Intoxilizer. Just because you’ve done that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be excluded from the program.

Interviewer: I would think that if I heard of the diversion program, that would make me say, “I don’t need a lawyer. I can just apply for this program and do it myself.” It sounds like it’s actually the opposite. It seems like it would be tremendously helpful to get an experienced lawyer to help you qualify for the diversion program and get you through it, because you’re getting tremendous benefit. Am I right?

Ladan Law: It is important. In the last year, the diversion program has tightened up their restrictions on what types of cases are accepted. They will exclude a first time offender that by all appearances should be accepted into the program. If they feel there’s something aggravating in the driving pattern, say, if someone went down the wrong way on a one way street, or was stopped for speeding at 90 miles an hour on the highway and subsequently got a DUI, or blew through a red light with an officer behind them. Those are the kinds of cases that might be denied and they’ll never give you a reason as to why you weren’t considered.

It would be very important for someone in that situation on a DUI because there’s no guarantee for the program to hire an criminal defense attorney and, preferably, a former attorney out of that office, to coordinate with the program directors and convince them why you would be a good candidate for the diversion program. I can tell you within the last couple of months, I’ve successfully done that on several clients where, at first blush, it didn’t look like they might be eligible and through negotiation and putting their best foot forward, they were accepted into the program and are on the way to getting a dismissal.

Interviewer: Once someone’s gone through the process and their case has been resolved, what kinds of things you’ve seen people do to get back on their feet? Go back to a normal life and move on from this happening?

Ladan Law: In over the decade that I’ve been doing DUI defense work, I’ve represented everyone from the high school kid to the world war II veteran driving home from the VFW. I’ve represented my friends. I’ve represented acquaintances that I’ve went to school with. Almost invariably, I tell my clients, “This is going to end and you’re going to get back to a normal life.”

A lot of people think this is a stigma that can’t be overcome. They’re distraught when they first sit down with me. Almost without exception, every one of those people has gone on to be employed, to live productive lives, to earn their driver’s license back and for 99% of my clients, one time is enough. One time gets their attention. They make some lifestyle changes, and ease back into it. The driver’s license difficulties while you’re going through the process, people will ask me how do I get to work? Unfortunately, I don’t have an acceptable answer for them. We all operate under the laws of the State of Florida and what the legislature has decided. If the driver’s license is suspended with no driving, it means exactly that. But that period can end and there’s a process that a knowledgeable attorney can walk you through to minimize the time that that driver’s license is suspended and maximize the temporary permits that are available.

As far as cycling back into life, I’ve been through it a million times with my clients. It is a traumatic experience. With a knowledgeable guide, you can minimize the damage that has already been done. You can maximize the opportunities. You can short circuit the difficulty of the sanctions as quickly as possible. I tell my clients, “This too will pass. You are going to get back to your normal life.” Unfortunately, at this point, it is a great money maker for the State of Florida. It is a very enforceable crime. It is an equal opportunity crime. It is very prevalent now and very popular for police departments to enforce.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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