Staggered Sentencing for Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders
- 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.
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 opportunities for rehabilitation
and accountability for those abusing substances.
Staggered Sentencing model, Minnesota
Statute 169A.275 Subdivision 6(b), allows repeat DWI
offenders who successfully comply with the program's
conditions of release, 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.
Under staggered sentencing, the time in jail is broken
down into equal segments and spread out over 3 or more
The following are key components of the Staggered
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
Staggered Sentencing in Isanti County has produced the
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 Traffic
Studies, the National Judicial College, the Center for
Alcohol Policy, the National Transportation Safety Board,
the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, 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:
RHIhub's Rural Health Models and Innovations hosts a
related success story on drunk driving prevention in
Isanti County: Isanti
County Safe Cab Program.
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility
advocates for Judge Dehn's Staggering Sentencing
model on their website.
These considerations have been recommended for program
- 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.
Criminal justice system
Substance use and misuse
July 2, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
October 21, 2019
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub,
Staggered Sentencing for Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at:
[Accessed 6 July 2022]
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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.