The "Special Deal" of Deferred Prosecutions in Washington

Police, judges, and other public officials often mess up like the rest of us by getting a DUI.   The cases inevitably make the newspaper, as well they should.  However, I am often a little surprised by how the media portrays DUI cases that are resolved with a “deferred prosecution”.  A deferred prosecution is when a DUI defendant gives up his right to a jury trial, and the case is continued for five years.  The defendant gets fives years of probation and alcohol treatment, and if he stays out of trouble then he may have the case dismissed at the end of 5 years.   Under Washington law, any DUI defendant is eligible for a deferred prosecution if he or she has not had one before.  So why is it that the news media portrays this as some sort of special deal reserved for people with “connections”.   For example, look at this headline in the Spokesman-Review: “Police Sergeant Avoids Prosecution“.   The article goes on to explain that the defendant has to go to alcohol treatment and stay out of trouble for five years.   How did the public react to this story?  Let’s look at the comments to the story that are posted online.  “Tinman” wrote: “WHERE DO I GET ONE OF THOSE ”GET OUT OF JAIL” CARDS FOR MYSELF??!!”   The answer is any district court in the State!  The forms are online here!  Last summer a city manager in Burien signed up for a deferred prosecution for a DUI, and the headline read that the judge “granted” the deal.  An angry comment read: “It seems we have a two tier judicial system, one for the rich/politician and one for Joe six pack.”  The truth is that the deferred prosecution is easy to sign up for, but difficult to complete.  The treatment is rigorous, and the conditions of probation severe.  Random UA tests are done that can detect alcohol use within a period of 72 hours.  People who complete the programs are in the minority.  I remember when I was a prosecutor, the judge and I were always glad to see someone successfully complete such a program.  Now that I am a criminal defense attorney, I always make sure that my clients know what they are getting into when they sign up for such a program.  It is truly for people who wish to quit drinking.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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