Deferred Prosecution

Those Seeking Treatment

If you are charged with a DUI and are either an alcoholic or drug addict, you have the option of asking the court to defer formal prosecution of the case for 2 years while you seek treatment at a state-certified treatment agency. Deferred prosecution is a demanding task requiring absolute abstinence from alcohol and non-prescribed drugs and complete adherence to the program requirements. In return, you do not suffer the usual consequences of a DUI conviction; jail, loss of license or high risk insurance. A deferred prosecution is a privilege granted by the State Legislature.

You must obtain an alcohol/drug evaluation from a State-certified chemical dependency counselor which will indicate whether you are eligible for the program. This program provides an opportunity to obtain treatment and have this charge removed from your criminal record. As a condition of the deferral, you must successfully complete a two year treatment program. All state-certified treatment agencies are required to follow essentially the same treatment program, so there is no such thing as finding an easy-versus-hard program. The program itself is divided into three phases: the Intensive Phase, the Follow-up Phase and the Monitoring Phase. The Intensive Phase is just that, requiring either inpatient hospitalization or outpatient treatment involving almost daily contact with the agency for 3 or 4 hours at a time for 4 to 6 weeks. The program involves in-depth individual and group counseling, education, alcoholics anonymous meetings, lifestyle changes, etc. Phase 2 of the program (the Follow-up Phase) lessens the time demands, but still requires strict sobriety and complete compliance with the treatment requirements.

During Follow-up, you are required to attend at least 2 AA (or other recognized support group) meetings per week and meet with a counselor once a week. In addition, you are required to submit to random urine or breath tests throughout the two year program upon the request of either by your counselor or probation officer. Once phase 2 is completed, you move into the Monitoring Phase. During these last 16 or 17 months, you must still attend at least two AA meetings per week and meet with your alcohol counselor at least once a month, who monitors your compliance with the program. In addition, you may be required to meet regularly with your probation officer to confirm your compliance. Upon successful completion of the treatment program, the treatment agency sends a discharge summary to the court, the Probation Department and your lawyer. You are then eligible for a formal dismissal of the charge.


In addition to being in treatment, you are forbidden to drink any alcohol or even be in possession of it. You cannot be in bars, taverns or lounges or places where alcohol is the chief item of sale, even if you are not consuming alcohol. You will be required to not drive without a valid driver's license and insurance. Installation of an ignition interlock device on all vehicles that you drive is also a typical requirement. During the entire period of a deferred prosecution program, you will be required to report to the Probation Department and the Court. You will be closely monitored for compliance with the treatment program and all Court orders. If you comply with all of the Court's requirements over a 5-year period, the DUI will be dismissed, however the deferred prosecution stays on your permanent record. You will pay a fee at the rate of $50 per month for the first 24 months. This must be paid in full before the order of dismissal on the deferred prosecution is signed.

It is not an easy road to take, but is an appropriate alternative for alcoholics and drug addicts truly interested in confronting and dealing with their problem. Deferred prosecution has many positive aspects, but is it important to consider several points. First, you are only eligible if you agree that you are an alcoholic or drug addict. Secondly, the court requires you to give up substantial rights in return for the deferral, including the right to trial and to contest the charges should any violation of the program occur during the two years. In other words, should the court determine that you have failed to comply with any condition of the court's order, the Court will review the police reports of the incident to determine if you are guilty. If you are found guilty, the matter will proceed directly to sentencing. Thirdly, strict compliance with the treatment plan's terms is required, including total abstinence, random urinalysis or breath tests and attendance at all required meetings. In addition, costs of the program can be substantial; an outpatient treatment program costs anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000. Most group health insurance policies cover the bulk of the costs at approved treatment agencies, but individual policies may not. Deferred prosecution is often a very positive alternative for alcoholics and drug addicts facing a DUI charge.

University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute Research

The University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute has been conducting an ongoing study of the effects of the deferred prosecution policy on reducing re-offense. That study involves tracking the rate of recidivism for two groups over a four year period. The groups studied include individuals diagnosed as alcoholic and granted deferred prosecution, and those convicted of DUI and later assessed to be being alcoholic. One key finding to-date is that, "Alcoholic convicted drivers were more than twice as likely as deferred drivers to recidivate within 4 years of disposition. More specifically, 48% of alcoholic convicted drivers, and 22% of the deferred drivers, recidivated within 4 years."

Recent changes in the deferred prosecution law limit deferred prosecution on a traffic offense to once in a person's lifetime, rather than once every 5 years, and lengthen the time that a person is required to comply with the court's conditions from 2 years to 5. The new laws also stipulate that a deferred prosecution stays on a person's permanent record.