First DUI court will open in September
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | July 21,2013
Toby Talbot / AP File Photo
Gov. Peter Shumlin, left, talks with former Windsor County prosecutor Robert Sand in Montpelier in January after appointing him to head up a DUI court program.
The first new court system designed to help those convicted of driving under the influence is only a month away from opening.
Former Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand was appointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin in January to start up a DUI court program. The 18-month program is designed to reduce recidivism, improve public safety, and help people overcome substance abuse addiction.
Sand was busy meeting with key stakeholders Friday morning and he later announced that the first DUI court in the state will be up and ready by September. Criminal court in White River Junction was selected as the first location.
“The ultimate vision is to help substance abuse dependents and give them the access to appropriate programming,” Sand said.
DUI courts are based on a national program designed to assist people who are convicted of drug crimes. According to the National Drug Court Resource Center, there are now 2,734 drug courts across America, including three in Vermont, and the push is on to replicate those efforts with DUI convictions.
According to Sand, the treatment program is for those convicted of second or third DUI offenses, and judges decide whether to allow the offender into the treatment program. Once in the program, they return to DUI court and provide regular updates.
“This is an accountability court,” Sand said. “There is no dismissal of charges and they are afforded an opportunity to have less of a jail sentence as they actively participate in the DUI treatment program.”
While the first DUI court is only weeks away from opening, Sand is also working on two smaller projects to enhance the program. He is working with Vermont Law School to create the first website dedicated to innovative criminal justice practices and he expects the site to be online in the fall.
Sand is also organizing a conference at VLS on innovative criminal justice practices where ideas can be discussed and shared among prosecutors, law enforcement officials, addiction counselors and others.
Sand hopes other criminal courts in the state will be willing to try the program out. But for now, the primary focus is on Windsor County.
“If you’re in a county that hasn’t historically collaborated on a big project, you can’t just flip the switch and all of sudden start a DUI court program,” Sand said.
“To start a treatment-based court, you need prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, corrections officials and treatment providers to be willing to sit down together and work in a collaborative fashion,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that in Windsor County because we did it already with The Sparrow Program which offers pre-trial services.”
Sand also addressed misconceptions about the White River Junction DUI court. According to Sand, there will be no new court building and no new courtroom.
DUI court cases may involve calendar calls, status conferences and jury draws. Sand is optimistic it will make a difference, but he also said it will take time to be successful.
“I’m not going to be able to snap my fingers in six months and say, ‘Look at all the changes we made,’” Sand said. “In my discussions with state’s attorneys, a number of them have said ‘Sure, we’re interested in working on this. Is there money available?’ It’s not there yet. Having a source of funds more readily available from which we could kick-start a new program will be a helpful thing.”