SHOULD HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY HAVE A DUI DIVERSION PROGRAM?

For the past several years Orange county has employed a different approach than Hillsborough county when it comes to first-time DUI cases. Orange county offers first-time DUI offenders what’s commonly called a “diversion program” – basically a probation-type program that lets people charged with a crime get their case dismissed, as long as they can complete the terms.

But do diversion programs like this encourage more people to break the law? Before we get into the possible downsides, let’s talk about the benefits a DUI diversion program would have.

The benefits:

As any DUI attorney will tell you, a DUI conviction can be very, very expensive. Not only will you end up paying over a thousand dollars in fines and costs to get a hardship license, being convicted of a DUI means buying additional insurance if you want to keep your driver’s license after the case is over. And, as you can imagine, insurance companies will see anyone with a DUI conviction as an “increased risk’ when quoting prices for an auto policy, which means your premiums will continue to stay high.

So how does that compare to a DUI diversion program? Let’s look at the details of what’s involved in the Orange county DUI diversion program:

Requirements/Cost

Program Length: 12 Months

Program Cost $600.00

Intake & Drug Tests $20.00 & $17.00

Community Service 50 Hours

Phone Reporting Cost $6-7.00 / Month

State Atty Fee $50.00

The best argument for a DUI diversion program is that it doesn’t  leave a permanent mark on someone’s record. Lowering the cost of a DUI case is a benefit as well. And while the arguments against a diversion program sound compelling, it’s another case when it comes to what happens county-to-county. Let’s see what happens when we look at Hillsborough and Orange counties side-by-side.

Does having a diversion program lead to higher numbers of DUI arrests?

For the time period of 2011-2015, Hillsborough and Orange counties had the following number of DUI cases:

 

CountyDUI Cases (approximate)Population (2013)Percent of DUI Cases / Population

Orange 10,000

1.225 million

0.8%

Hillsborough 15,000

1.292 million

1.1%

So, over the past five years, not only has Orange county had fewer DUI cases than Hillsborough county, it has had a lower percent of DUI cases when you compare the number of cases to total county population.

Where it does make a difference:

The differences between Hillsborough and Orange county are pretty apparent when you compare the numbers of people convicted of DUI:

Over half of people accused of DUI in Hillsborough county end up getting convicted, and only 11% of DUI cases are dismissed.

Compare this to Orange county, where nearly a third of DUI cases get dismissed:

That 20% jump in dismissals is certainly something, especially when you consider the expenses associated with a DUI conviction like added insurance costs and a driver’s license suspension, not to mention paying a DUI lawyer anywhere from $2,000.00 and up to fight the charge.

Which brings us to the most important question (not really)…

Would it put DUI attorneys out of business?

I’ve heard from a number of DUI attorneys that if Hillsborough county starts this type of diversion program it would put most DUI attorneys out of business. So would it?

Probably not. Let’s look at some numbers for Hillsborough county and Orange county.

Over the past 5 years (2011-2015) 68% of people charged with a DUI in Hillsborough county hired an attorney. 18% had the public defender, and 14% went without an attorney:

In Orange county, which has a DUI diversion program, we’d expect those numbers to be different, like a much lower number of people hiring attorneys, right? Let’s take a look at those 2011-2015 stats:

Lawyers gotta eat, right? It may be that DUI attorneys over in Orange county have figured out that people charged with a DUI want help right away, and aren’t aware that they could qualify for the diversion program whether or not they have an attorney.

There have been questions about the DUI program in Orange county, like whether it’s really only available to people with the money to “buy their way out” of a conviction. Consider, however, how much a DUI conviction costs someone for years after their arrest. Maybe it’s time for Hillsborough county to give a DUI diversion program a try.

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