In most states, if you are arrested for a DUI, you will need to be assessed for alcohol abuse at some point during the criminal proceedings that follow. Alcohol abuse assessments are intended to determine whether and to what extent a driver has a substance abuse problem following an alcohol-related arrest. This can allow specialists who are knowledgeable about alcohol abuse to develop a treatment plan to address your specific circumstances.
When Does the Assessment Happen?
The timing of the alcohol assessment for drivers charged with DUI varies across jurisdictions and depending on your individual circumstances. Some states require that an assessment be started and finished before sentencing. In those states, the alcohol assessment (or drug assessment if it is a drug DUI) can affect how the defendant is sentenced by the judge, and the findings from the assessment may increase, reduce, or do away with certain penalties that would normally be imposed. Sometimes an assessment is a crucial part of participating in diversion or deferred sentencing programs. You might not be able to participate in a diversion program unless you complete the alcohol assessment and treatment. Other states require the assessment to be completed within a certain period of time after sentencing as a condition of probation.
Developing a Treatment Program
Alcohol assessments are usually conducted by a certified treatment provider who will review not only your arrest report but also your substance abuse history, criminal record, and driving record. The program may require you to be screened for drug and alcohol use as well. The treatment providers can make recommendations to the court. Most states require drivers to pay for the costs of the alcohol assessment and treatment (sometimes on top of fines, surcharges, and the costs of installing an ignition interlock device). The fee is paid directly to the provider who assesses you.
When you are referred to treatment for a substance abuse problem, you can expect to receive counseling and further assessments as well as a risk reduction plan. Programs may involve Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, random alcohol and drug testing, substance abuse education, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, or group treatment. Usually, the more serious your problem is determined to be, the more intense that the required treatment program will be.
When an assessment shows that there is no alcohol abuse problem, and the DUI was a result of a random moment of bad judgment, there may be no substance abuse treatment prescribed. On the other hand, you may still need to take a substance abuse course as part of your sentencing, depending on the state.
Failing to Comply with Program Requirements
If you fail to comply with this part of your sentence, you may be brought back to court for a probation violation hearing or revocation of a diversionary program and resentencing that entails harsher penalties. Furthermore, you may not be able to have your license reinstated until you prove that you have completed the evaluation and treatment program.
In some cases, criminal defense attorneys recommend that their DUI clients voluntarily undertake an alcohol assessment early in the process following an arrest. Acting promptly may be recommended in order to make a positive impression with a trial judge down the road after a conviction or in connection with a negotiated plea. Delayed assessment and treatment may not have the same kind of weight in your case that prompt assessment and treatment after an arrest would. If you voluntarily submit to assessment and treatment as necessary, this can be brought up to sway the prosecutor in plea negotiations. The benefit of pursuing these actions voluntarily is that if you have a problem, you can receive treatment to avoid getting another DUI. Or, if you are not found to have a problem, this can be helpful in persuading prosecutors to reach a plea for a lesser charge or to obtain a dismissal, depending on other variables in your case.