Repeat DUI Offender Sobriety Programs


What if every person who was a repeat drunk driver was prohibited from drinking alcohol at all—day or night, seven days a week—as part of their sentence. It may sound far-fetched but that is exactly what the state of South Dakota has done since it started a pilot program in 2005 and later expanded to the apply in the entire state.

The program in South Dakota, known as the 24/7 Sobriety Program, is enforced on repeat DUI offenders and those first-time offenders who test with a BAC of .17% or higher. Most offenders are allowed to remain in the community and to drive as long as they totally abstain from alcohol during the period of their sentence. The program requires the offender to , submit to a test for alcohol in their system (through a variety of methods) twice daily, at 12-hour intervals. If the offender fails to submit to the testing at the designated time or if the test shows any alcohol in the person’s system, it will result in his or her immediate incarceration or electronic ankle bracelet confinement. Essentially, this imposes a no-alcohol consumption restriction on the program participant.

You might wonder how effective such a program would be. After all, once the sentence comes to an end, the offender can drink again and make the same poor decision to drive drunk. Despite the initial skepticism in South Dakota that the program would be effective, it has turned out to be very successful. By 2015, almost 30,000 South Dakotans had participated in the program with more than a 99% pass rate on the twice daily tests for alcohol. And even more importantly, RAND research found that after the program was adopted by counties in South Dakota, the number of repeat drunken driving arrests decreased by 12 percent. That is a substantial decrease and suggests that enforced alcohol abstinence may be an effective tool to decrease drunken driving nation-wide. While there are currently no efforts to implement such a program in California, similar programs are currently being tested in Jacksonville, Florida and London England.

My suspicion is that the program works because enforced abstinence for a sustained period of time forces the offender to deal with his or her alcohol “problem.” Many repeat DUI offenders are alcohol addicts. Unlike the typical DUI punishments, where the offender isn’t forced to face up to his or her addiction, the 24/7 Sobriety Program leaves the alcohol-addicted participant no choice but to get the treatment so they are able to stop drinking altogether.

24/7 sobriety programs are a growing trend. Washington State implemented a program in some areas in 2014, in addition to Jacksonville, other cities in Florida are considering similar programs, Wyoming has a new 24/7 sobriety program law, Iowa recently instituted a 24/7 sobriety program, Montana has a pilot program, Illinois has a bill pending for a 24/7 sobriety pilot program, and I am sure there are others to add to this list. California, which often swings the nation is behind the curve on this one. However, I expect we will see a bill introduced in the California Legislature if these other programs prove as successful as the program has in South Dakota.

William Weinberg is an attorney with over 20 years defending DUI cases and he is available to consult with you about your matter by contacting him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.c