LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) Two years after Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes implemented one of the most robust DUI diversion programs in the Alabama, 191 offenders have graduated the program, and only one graduate has re-offended with a second DUI.
First, there is no drinking allowed while DUI offenders work the program that can last up to 18-months and Hughes takes that part of the program very seriously.
“It’s a one-shot bite at the apple. This is a way for you to have a do-over and get a fresh start,” said Hughes.
However, Lee County has one of the most rigorous programs in the state, a fact Hughes is proud of considering his background as a state DUI prosecutor where he came into contact with families devastated by the deadly consequences of a drunk driver.
“I know I have fought to have a DUI pretrial diversion program for a long part of my career, but we had it when I got here, and the camel was already under the tent. So we made it more stringent on who we allow in and out. For instance, if you get into a wreck, you are not eligible, or if you have a child under the age of 14 at the time of the DUI. Then, if they do get in – regardless of the facts and circumstances of their case – they are prohibited one thousand percent from any alcohol while they are in the program. If you have one ounce of alcohol you will be kicked out of the program and convicted of your DUI,” explained Hughes.
Under a relatively new Alabama law, an offender has to blow into an interlock device to start their vehicle. However, Hughes worries how easy it is to skirt the device.
“Nothing is stopping them from getting into someone else car, or during somebody else’s car if they know they have been drinking they are not going to take a test voluntarily,” said Hughes.
So, on top of Interlock Hughes was one of the first District Attorneys in the state to implement personal alcohol detection devices.
“So, they don’t tell us when they are going to test we tell them when they are going to test. They can be anywhere, and we can test them 10, 12 or 15 times a day if we want, and they have 30-minutes to blow into the device. They have to hold a smartphone up, and it records video of them blowing into the device, so we know it is them. If the test shows they have alcohol then we get an email alert saying they have tested hot for alcohol and the device begins a new test every 10 minutes to determine it is indeed alcohol,” said Hughes.
Hughes says prohibition and consistent monitoring is crucial to changing an offenders mindset while completing the program. With 191 graduates, only one has gotten a second DUI.
“The stats are for every DUI arrest someone has gotten they have driven 80 times or more under the influence before they are caught. So hopefully we are doing something to help them and the community,” said Hughes.
The devices cost the offender $30 a month, and the company can provide smartphones if needed. Hughes says while the program isn’t easy, it is doable.
Lee County DUI Diversion Program considered toughest in state and stats say its working