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Staggered Sentencing for Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders

Summary 
  • Need: To reduce the incidences of repeat drunk driving.
  • Intervention: Repeat DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenders were given a staggered sentence, allowing them to serve their sentence in segments of time, typically separated by several months to a year. The offender was able to file a motion to request a waiver for the remaining sentence period(s), if able to show that he/she maintained sobriety.
  • Results: The incidence of recidivism, or crime relapse, has been reduced among offenders given staggered sentences, by comparison to offenders given traditional DWI sentences. The program has also reduced the average cost of jail time that otherwise would have been served from a full sentence.
Description

In 2011, approximately 40 percent of the DWI arrests in Minnesota were made on offenders with prior DWI convictions. Many rural courts lack the financial resources to develop a “DWI collaborative team” model. District Judge James Dehn in Isanti County, Minnesota developed the staggered sentencing model to reduce the likelihood of repeat DWI offences. The judge-driven program aims to improve public safety while providing assistance for offenders in addressing substance abuse issues.

The Staggered Sentencing model allows repeat DWI offenders the opportunity to reduce their total sentence. A DWI offender would serve a portion of his/her sentence, then if able to prove sobriety, he/she could request to have the remaining sentence waived.

Services offered

The following are key components of the Staggered Sentencing model:

Staggered Periods of Incarceration

  • The offender was placed on probation and allowed to serve the sentence in 2 or 3 periods of incarceration, rather than a full continuous sentencing
  • The first segment of incarceration began shortly after being sentenced
  • Periods of incarceration were spaced apart by several months to 1 year
  • He/she could file a motion with the court to request to waiver for the subsequent periods of incarceration if he/she maintained sobriety while on probation

Home Electronic Alcohol Monitoring (HEM)

  • Offenders were required to use Home Electronic Alcohol Monitoring (HEM), usually in periods of 30 days/year
  • Typically the offender had to provide a breath sample into the HEM unit 3 times/day
  • If a sample tested positive for alcohol or if the offender failed to provide a mandatory sample, then they were brought back before the sentencing judge

Offender Participation

  • It was the responsibility of the offender to show evidence of his/her sobriety and file a motion if he/she wished to have remaining sentence(s) waived. Letters could be submitted from friends, AA supporters, employers, probation officers, etc.
  • Offenders also had the opportunity to request a waiver for the next HEM requirement

Well-defined Consequences for Probation Violations at Initial Sentencing

  • Failure to maintain sobriety during the sentencing resulted in consequences that were clearly defined at the initial sentencing. Typically, the penalty was immediate incarceration for the remainder of the sentence
  • If the offender did not wish to file a motion for the next sentence installment, they simply fulfilled the remainder of that sentence. There was no penalty for not filing the motion, as long as the offender appeared for the next sentencing
Results

Staggered Sentencing in Isanti County has produced the following results:

The Staggering Sentencing model continues to be carried out by judges all over Minnesota. As many as 30 states have started similar programs.

The program has been recognized as a national model in rural transportation by the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies and the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, the Center for Alcohol Policy, National Transportation Safety Board, The Century Council, and the National Beer Institute.

Judge Dehn received the 2003 Paul H. Chapman Award for his Staggered Sentencing model. He has also been recognized by two national MADD awards, and several state-level awards for his model addressing the issue of drunk driving. Several other Minnesota courts have since adopted the Staggered Sentencing model for DWIs.

For more information about this program and its results:

Cleary, Jim. Controlling Repeat DWI Offenders with Staggered Sentencing. Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department, January 2003. 33.

Wiliszowski, C.; Fell, J.; McKnight, S.; and Tippetts, S.: An Evaluation of Intensive Supervision Programs for Serious DWI Offenders. NHTSA. March 2011. 33.

RHIhub's Rural Health Models and Innovations hosts a related success story on drunk driving prevention in Isanti County: Isanti County Safe Cab Program.

Replication

These considerations have been recommended for program replication:

  • Utilize a team approach that includes participation from offender, probation officer, prosecutor, etc.
  • Important for jurisdictions to customize their own model of staggered sentencing
  • Consider using adaptive variations to the approach, based on factors such as the blood level content of the offender, the number of past DWI convictions, etc.
For more information:

Center for Excellence in Rural Safety Webinar: Staggered Sentencing for Repeat DWI Offenders

Contact Information
James Dehn, Judge of District Court
Isanti County
Staggering Sentencing
763.442.8948
jimdehn@gmail.com
Topics
Criminal justice system
Substance abuse
Transportation
States served
Minnesota
Date added
July 2, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
August 2, 2017

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.