Driving-under-influence charges decreased in Lancaster County in 2017, down just over 100 from the previous year.
Last year also marked the second full year of DUI Central Court, a reform of how DUI cases are prosecuted, with aims of increasing court efficiency and getting at-risk offenders under supervision and into treatment as soon as possible.
Last year, 1,558 DUI-related criminal dockets were filed by law-enforcement in Lancaster County. That number does not include DUI-related cases with attached felonies, such as homicide by vehicle.
In 2016, 1,662 DUI dockets were filed in the county.
Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman noted the chance of a one-year aberration, but stressed the number of DUI cases in the past four years – an average of 1,596 per year - is significantly lower than the four-year period prior when an average of 1,717 cases were filed each year.
District Attorney Stedman’s office attributes the decrease to several possibilities, including:
- Prosecution reform which gets at-risk offenders into treatment/on restriction, like SCRAM, faster than before. SCRAM and other restrictions are part of the county’s DUI Repeat Offender Program (DROP);
- Increased use of driver services, like Uber, Lyft and taxis;
- Police efforts/checkpoints and enforcement deterrent;
- Public awareness and perceptions.
Implemented in the fall of 2016, DUI Central Court convenes twice a month at the Lancaster County Courthouse, where defendants typically opt to enter the ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) program, waive their preliminary hearing for guilty plea offers, enter a guilty plea, or have a preliminary hearing.
District Attorney Stedman proposed the Central Court model, which Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker enacted. The defense bar, Adult Probation and Parole Services, and district judges have also been key to the court’s success.
About 80 cases are called for each Central Court session. Assistant District Attorney Ande Gonzalez is lead prosecutor, assisted by ADA Trista Boyd.
Last year, at each session, action was taken in 74 percent of cases. Action being defined as a plea/sentencing (only in 1st-offense cases), a guilty plea, or a case being held over after a preliminary hearing or waiver of that hearing.
As part of reform, at-risk offenders – those charged with a second or subsequent DUI – are immediately placed on SCRAM, which monitors alcohol intake, and other restrictions, such as no-alcohol orders, or drug-alcohol treatment programs.
Those measures, District Attorney Stedman said, could be factors in limiting the number of new DUI charges overall. Those most at-risk offenders, Stedman explained, are not drinking or continuing to drive.
“And we have found that repeat DUI offenders are some of the most dangerous individuals on our roadways,” Stedman said.
Previously, initial hearings in DUI cases were scheduled and held individually at the district court with jurisdiction of the respective cases. The next steps, such as application and entrance into ARD, previously happened separately. Now, everyone involved in the process meets at the downtown courthouse where cases are resolved or placed on a faster track toward resolution.
Essentially, a process that used to take up to a year is now taking weeks, in many cases.
District Attorney Stedman is hopeful public perception of DUI is changing, while noting that is still a work in progress.
“Potential DUI offenders should at least be aware that police officers in this county vigorously target intoxicated drivers and my office prosecutes those cases in the same manner,” District Attorney Stedman said. “It is also becoming more-common knowledge that a DUI charge is costly in so many regards – financially, socially, and can result in the taking of a life.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BrettHambright