Saturday, August 30, 2008

People who fail to complete DUI court obligations face warrants & arrests

California drunk driving attorneys report 400 people in northern San Joaquin County are wanted on drunken driving-related warrants. But where those people are now is a mystery.

Extra officers fanned out across Lodi and the surrounding area Thursday, knocking on doors in search of offenders. After visiting 232 homes between 1 and 8 p.m., not a single person was found or arrested.

The results frustrated officers who wanted to arrest violators, but the operation wasn't fruitless. Legally, police must try to find those wanted on warrants, or else the cases can be dismissed due to lack of "due diligence."

The operation was funded through a multi-year grant through the Office of Traffic Safety. Called "Avoid the 10," it coordinates 10 San Joaquin County law enforcement agencies who cross city and jurisdiction lines to team up.

Manteca wrote the grant and runs it, joining forces with city police departments, the Sheriff's Office and the probation department.

On Thursday officers tackled the warrants based in Lodi Municipal Court — which handles everything from Eight Mile Road north to the county line.

About Thursday's operation
Thursday's warrant operation was part of a statewide effort called "California Avoid," a program started in 1973. Currently 45 of California's 52 counties are involved.

The goal is to get law enforcement agencies to team up and crack down on drunken drivers, through checkpoints, roving patrols and following-up on those who don't go to court. Enforcement is increased around major holidays, when more people consume alcohol.

The program is funded through grants from the California Office of Traffic Safety.

All 400 people had made at least one court appearance, but had then failed to finish the legal proceedings. Some are accused of never completing a drunken driving awareness program, while others didn't pay fines or never appeared after their first arraignment.

"The long-term effect of drunk driving is different than most crimes," Officer Osborn said. "If your house gets broken into, that affects you. But drunk driving affects so many people, including our insurance rates. It causes so many tragedies."

Repeat drunken drivers in Stockton who would otherwise skip out on their required treatment classes now are getting close supervision from a judge under a new court program that began this year.

Not all of them are happy with the new scrutiny.

"I don't think it's right to have to go to these classes," said new Stockton resident Geretta Brown, 55. "But I'm going to go and get it over with. I don't have any money, and I need to get a place to live. It's just everything falling down at one time."

How DUI Court works
• A judge places all Stockton repeat drunken-driving offenders in a court-ordered educational program.

• Each offender has to see the judge after one month, six months and one year to show they are attending their required classes and complying with the terms of their probation.

• Offenders who fail the program or who need more treatment are placed in a more hands-on court program, where the judge can reward offenders for good behavior or threaten them with time in jail.
San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Richard Vlavianos said the DUI Court that began in January already has returned vastly more positive results than he anticipated when he started.

In the first seven months of 2008, 1 percent of repeat drunken driving offenders committed new offenses. That comes in stark contrast to 10 percent in 2005, said Vlavianos, who attributed the improvement to the program that makes offenders report to him.

"They have to come back and show me what they're doing," Vlavianos said. "The anecdotal information we have is that people are doing better."

Vlavianos said the program was needed because repeat drunken driving offenders in San Joaquin County had the worst rate of being in a crash within a year of their arrest out of any larger California county. The program is running only in Stockton.

The court launched the program with the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, the Office of the Public Defender, DUI defense attorneys, San Joaquin County DUI program providers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.