While it can be very easy for the world to label drunk drivers as nothing more than selfish or irresponsible people who should be locked up in order to keep society safe, that is only one part of the picture. The truth is much more complex. The average drunk driver with multiple DUIs on their record is most often someone dealing with substance abuse issues. And in those cases, what they need is help. Incarceration is one way in which those substance abusers are coerced into participating in the rehabilitation they so desperately need. That’s what sobriety court offers.
Michigan is home to a vast number of sobriety courts which offer eligible individuals convicted of certain drunk driving offenses an opportunity to obtain a restricted driver license after the installation of an ignition interlock device on their vehicles. While that is the rough overview of what a sobriety court does, a closer look reveals that it is so much more than a chance to get your license back. In truth, it’s a chance to get your life back.
Although sobriety courts vary across Michigan, each one having slightly different eligibility and participation requirements, one thing remains constant across the board – the people who participate have to work hard. Sobriety court is not a walk in the park, nor is it the “easy” way for a convicted drunk or drugged driver to get back behind the wheel. However, for those who are ready to make the commitment, it can be a second chance at a life full of promise and possibility.
Each sobriety court participant is required to attend either Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or some other form of substance abuse counseling to address their addiction. Some sobriety courts also encourage other forms of counselling and therapy as well, in order to deal with the underlying issues that led to the substance abuse.
In addition to regular participation in counselling, participants are also held accountable by having their sobriety checked regularly. For some this means regular “drops” to test a their urine for traces of drugs or alcohol. For others it means wearing an ankle bracelet that monitors their system for alcohol. In either case, participants are required to stay sober for the duration of their participation in the program in order to graduate.
Participants also have to have an ignition interlock device installed on their car in some courts. It does not allow them to even start the car if they are under the influence of alcohol. An ignition interlock device, also known as a BAIID (Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device) is a device that is professionally installed on a person’s car as ordered by a court. It requires that a driver blow a breath sample into a measuring device, which then prohibits the car from starting if there are any traces of alcohol on their breath.
Beyond these restrictions, participants are also sometimes subject to random searches of their homes conducted by probation officers, along with certain restrictions that apply to everyone living in the same household, like a no-alcohol policy. This means that no one living in the same house as a sobriety court participant may own or possess any alcohol.
Despite these restrictions and requirements which may seem onerous, there are some very positive upsides to participating in sobriety court. For a start, participants who complete the program successfully are usually able to avoid jail time. In addition, many participants get their driver’s licenses returned to them, allowing them to resume more normalized lives. The best result is one that cannot be quantified, and that is that the participants get a new shot at a future.
Sober and back in control, they are now able to get better jobs, and to keep them. They are able to avoid future stints in jail having been released from a vicious cycle of substance abuse and they can resume healthier relationships with their families and loved ones. They have hope and dignity, which are priceless.
So if you have been arrested for drunk or drugged driving and are aware that your situation may be the result of some underlying substance abuse issues, talk to your attorney about whether sobriety court is an option for you. Because if it is, this may be the chance you need to turn your life around.