Washington is one of a few states in the U.S. that offers Deferred Prosecution as a sentencing option for people charged with driving under the influence (DUI). Deferred Prosecution intends to help offenders suffering from addiction or mental illness address their issues in the hope that they will not commit future crimes. Deferred Prosecution is a five-year program that a convicted driver can qualify for once in a lifetime, but only under specific circumstances.
This program requires strict adherence to its terms: A driver must abstain from alcohol and nonprescription drugs and participate in the meetings the program dictates, while serving five years on probation. In return, the driver will not suffer the normal consequences of a DUI charge.
The state created this treatment program for those who are ready to address their addiction or mental health issues and who will likely see a successful completion by following the treatment plan. Before a judge allows a driver into a Deferred Prosecution program, most Washington jurisdictions require approval from the probation department. If a driver is not serious about addressing these issues or their probation officer doesn't believe they will adhere to the program, that driver will not be approved for Deferred Prosecution.
Petitioning for the Deferred Prosecution Program
According to RCW Section 10.05, a driver charged with a traffic infraction, misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor DUI in the state of Washington can petition the court for the program at least seven days before the date set for trial. However, the court may waive the time requirement if the defendant reimburses it for subpoenaed witnesses and other expenses.
A driver cannot petition the court for Deferred Prosecution more than once in their life, and a person who faces separate offenses with more than seven days between them cannot consolidate the charges into one program. There are also other misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charges under RCW Section 9A.42 that do not allow an offender to petition to attend the Deferred Prosecution program, including criminal mistreatment, abandonment of a dependent person and endangerment with a controlled substance.
How to Qualify for Deferred Prosecution
Washington state believes that some people who run afoul of the law do so not because they're criminals but because they have substance abuse or mental health issues. It created Deferred Prosecution to put the emphasis on treatment rather than punishment. A driver charged with a DUI who is an addict or suffering from mental health issues, and who wishes to decrease the probability of future criminal activities, has the option of asking the court for Deferred Prosecution while they seek treatment at a state-certified center.
According to Washington Campbell Law Firm, to receive the option of Deferred Prosecution, drivers charged with a Washington state DUI must:
- Not have attended a previous Deferred Prosecution in Washington or a similar program in another state.
- Admit to substance or drug addiction or a mental health condition that makes it likely that the driver will re-offend unless they get treatment.
- Agree to suspend their right for a quick trial.
- Agree to waive their constitutional rights to call or cross-examine witnesses; to waive the presumption of innocence and the right to appeal; and to waive their right to testify or refuse to testify.
- Admit guilt to the DUI charge.
Drivers who qualify will agree to attend addiction or mental health treatment sessions for two years. These include:
- Three group sessions a week for the first 90 days.
- One group session a week for eight months following the first 90 days.
- One group session a month for the remainder of the two years.
- Two sobriety support group or self-help meetings a week for two years, such as Alcohol Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
- An ignition interlock device (IID) installed in the offender's vehicle for a year.
Completion and Violation of Deferred Prosecution
Drivers that adhere to the caveats of Washington's Deferred Prosecution program for the first two years will see a continuation of their case and court oversight for an additional three years. After that, if the driver has completed all the court's requirements, including abstinence from nonprescription drugs or alcohol and no other criminal charges, the court will dismiss that driver's DUI case. However, the court requires that the driver complete the treatment program before the remaining three years can proceed, so if it takes three years to complete treatment sessions, it will take six years for a driver to complete the entire program.
If the driver violates the Deferred Prosecution agreement, that person will likely have to complete treatment upon their release. According to Powers Law Group of Mt. Vernon, Washington, examples of violations include:
- Consumption of alcohol or nonprescription drugs.
- Committing a criminal violation.
- Operating a vehicle without a valid license or proof of insurance.
- Operating a vehicle without an IID.
- Testing positive on an IID.
- Missing any sobriety or probation meetings, counseling sessions or court dates.
- Not paying fines in full or on time.
- Not being in compliance with additional conditions set by probation officers or the court.
Benefits of Deferred Prosecution
Provided a driver meets all the Deferred Prosecution program requirements, the courts will dismiss the case and ultimately acquit the offender. The driver receives treatment for their mental health problems or addiction issues, and also avoids jail and fines of up to $5,000 that generally come with a DUI.
The driver who successfully completes the program also avoids:
- A trial and possible conviction.
- A license suspension of anywhere from 90 days to four years, depending on the nature of the DUI charge.
- Immigration issues, as some countries refuse to allow entry to people with DUI convictions.
Cons of Deferred Prosecution
When agreeing to Deferred Prosecution, drivers must understand that it is not an easy program. It requires a significant time commitment and abstinence from nonprescription drugs and alcohol throughout its duration. The driver must admit to having substance abuse or mental health issues, and this admission could follow them throughout their lives in the justice system.
If a driver fails a breath test through their IID device, its provider will report the violation to the court, which will require the driver to fulfill community service commitments or revoke their Deferred Prosecution. The court may even sentence the defendant to jail time. The program is only available once during a driver's lifetime; if they have a more serious DUI charge in the future, they will not be able to partake in the program again.
Even if a driver completes the program, the charge still counts as a prior DUI offense, and they will face more severe sentencing when charged with future DUI offenses. The driver must sincerely admit guilt and stipulate that the facts presented by law enforcement are ample enough reason for it. If the court revokes the program, the judge will enter a guilty finding, which a driver cannot appeal. The Deferred Prosecution is also expensive, costing anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.