This year the Council of Accountability Court Judges asked the Chatham County DUI Court to serve a three-year term as one of Georgia's model DUI Courts. The court will assist other DUI Courts in Georgia with technical assistance, information sharing, and site visits. Criteria used in selecting model courts was the program's age, judge tenure, coordinator tenure, certification scores, and peer review findings.
In May of 2003, Chief Judge H. Gregory Fowler oversaw the creation of the Chatham County DUI Court to provide a successful treatment model for multiple DUI offenders. The court's goal is to reduce Driving Under the Influence recidivism by addressing the offender's substance abuse. The court accomplishes this through substance abuse intervention and judicial review. The DUI Court monitors each participant/offender throughout his/her court participation. Additionally, probation supervises the participant throughout his/her probation period.
Another goal of the court is to facilitate the re-licensure of participants. Many current DUI offenders do not complete the re-licensure process and participation in the DUI Court will increase compliance with issues related to re-licensure. Drivers that are licensed are less likely to re-offend, increasing public safety in Chatham County.
In recent years, the Council of Accountability Court Judges awarded the STAR award to both Judge Fowler and the Court's coordinator, David Wood, for their prospective positions.
A noble experiment with one purpose; to test whether a new and different approach to handling repeat DUI offenders will yield an improved result.
The Chatham County DUI Court is "Problem Solving Court" for multiple DUI offenders under the jurisdiction of the State Court of Chatham County. The Honorable H. Gregory Fowler presides over the Court. The DUI COURT began operation on May 1, 2003. The DUI Court's goal is to confront the substance abuse issue underlying the repetitive pattern of offenders of driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs.
The sentencing judge may sentence anyone with two DUIs in a five year period, or three DUIs in a lifetime to participate. After sentencing, the court mandates substance abuse treatment, 12 step meeting attendance, random drug tests, biweekly court appearances and more, as a condition of probation.
The treatment portion of DUI Court lasts a minimum of one year and includes a treatment program tailored to the individual needs of the participants. The participant pays treatment fees.
If the participatant fails to meet any requirements of DUI Court program, the presiding DUI Court judge will issue immediate sanctions. The sanctions may include additional community service, jail time or both. If the participant has multiple infractions, he may have his probation revoked.
As of January 2019, over 2,365 defendants have been sentenced to DUI Court, and 1,396 participants have graduated. The remaining defendants either are in active treatment or have been terminated for cause. The court boasts a DUI recidivism rate for its graduates of less than 5% compared to the national average of over 19%.
The DUI Court is a collaborative effort of the Court, the City of Savannah and Chatham County governments. It works with direct coordinated support from the District Attorney's office, PRIDE probation and the Recovery Place of Savannah. DUI Court participants also receive needed services from local social service agencies, public and private.
In order to receive state grant funding, Georgia's adult felony drug, adult mental health courts, DUI/OUI, and Family Treatment Courts must be certified by the Council of Accountability Court Judges (Council). As of March 2017, the Chatham County DUI Court has been certified by the Council of Accountability Judges. More information, including locations, on this and other certified County courts can be found by clicking the links below.
Program Coordinator: Charlene Middleton
Phone: (912) 652-3039
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All DUI cases filed in the Savannah - Chatham County jurisdiction and all cases bound over to the State Court are screened for eligibility for the DUI Court program. Criminal histories and driver's record of all persons cited in those DUI cases are reviewed by the District Attorney for eligibility. Included in the DUI Court program are all cases where there is a second DUI offense within a five year period or a third or greater DUI offense in the accused's lifetime. All such cases are sent directly to the DUI Court for arraignment and adjudication. Cases not otherwise qualified may, at the discretion of a sentencing judge, also be included.
The goal of this unique program is to increase public safety by confronting the substance abuse issues of
DUI offenders and their repetitive pattern of driving even while impaired by applying significant and
overwhelming pressure on offenders.
The pressure, includes the usual array of sentencing options; confinement, probation, fines, community service, interlock devices and victim impact panels. The difference is, rather than being primarily punitive, this program focuses on the offenders' issues. It includes direct contact with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse treatment counselors, law enforcement officers, and the whole range of people at area Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Hopefully, through those positive interactions and great efforts on the part of offenders, a good number of them will be able to negotiate their way back to good citizenship.
Participants are enrolled in the program and on probation for two full years from the date of sentencing. The first year is divided into four phases as shown:
Orientation (8 Weeks)
This is probably the most difficult phase of the program. Each new participant is required to meet with the program coordinator, probation officer and treatment providers where they become fully informed about the requirements of the program. All new participants must then sign an agreement regarding their participation and undergo an alcohol and drug assessment. They are required to attend a minimum of three group counseling sessions per week and two Community Support Meetings per week. They also have one probation appointment per month and must attend all DUI Court sessions. Court is scheduled at two week intervals, usually on Thursday afternoons beginning at 4:00 PM. Participants are subject to random drug/alcohol screenings conducted at least two times per week and more often if deemed necessary by any element of the DUI court program.
Phase 1 (12 Week)
Early in the program, participants often find themselves minimizing, rationalizing, and even denying their use. For that reason, Phase One functions as an extended assessment period. The majority of this time is spent in group discussions focusing on patterns of use, history of consequences associated with use and, if applicable, past attempts to control use. This phase consists of two group counselings session per week, documented attendance at three Community Support Meetings per week, random drug testing, and attendance at all DUI Court sessions.
Phase 2 (17 Weeks)
Phase Two is really the active treatment and early recovery portion of DUI Court program. Specific requirements of Phase Two are based on the participant's experience during Phase One. Using the personal plan for change developed by the participant, the staff develops a specific program for each individual to reflect type, intensity, and frequency of services to be provided during this phase. For some, there may be no change in terms of program requirements. Others may see changes in check-in, probation appointment as well as Community Support Meetings attendance requirements, reflecting their improvement and motivation for treatment. All participants will, at a minimum, continue to attend weekly group sessions during this 17 week of period and appear before the Judge two times each month. They are also required to meet normal probation requirements and are subject to random drug/alcohol testing.
Aftercare (15 Weeks)
Aftercare is the fourth and final phase of the supervised treatment portion of the DUI Court program. During this phase participants will focus on completing their personal goals for use/recovery and learn how to manage "high risk" situations. They will also concentrate on completing the requirements for driver license reinstatement.
Throughout this 15 week period, participants are required to attend two group counseling sessions per month, three Community Support Meetings per week and comply with all routine probation requirements, including being subject to random drug and alcohol testing.
The second year is reserved for Court monitoring through the Court's routine probation program.