To ease courts backlog, prosecutors are considering plea deals in DUI cases

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Updated: Jan. 28, 2021 at 5:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The pandemic could change a longstanding practice for Honolulu prosecutors handling drunk driving cases ― at least temporarily.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Mothers Against Drunk Driving are discussing plea deals for some defendants in an effort to clear a court logjam.

“Everybody got together and said, perhaps because of the circumstances, we could make an exception for first time offenders,” said attorney Jonathan Burge.

MADD also sees the benefits.

“In light of the pandemic and everything going on in our world this is probably a solution that we can agree to come upon just because it’s needed,” said Kurt Kendro of the MADD Public Policy Committee.

“Our biggest fear is that these cases get dismissed because of court congestion.”

There are a lot of conditions.

The deal would only be for first-time offenders so drivers with a previous drunk driving arrest are eliminated as are those with any arrest in the last five years.

The case also cannot involve an accident or injury.

Prosecutors have discretion so someone who meets the previous qualifications but had an exceptionally high blood alcohol content can still be denied.

For those who are offered the deal, the charge would be amended to reckless driving.

The following requirements would have to be met by the defendant:

  • A fine of $1,000 and court costs or community service
  • Drivers education classes
  • Substance abuse assessment and rehabilitation programs, if ordered
  • License revocation for one year and an ignition interlock

Part of the negotiation among stakeholders: If an ignition interlock will be required for vehicle access.

If the driver fulfills all requirements, the charge is deferred.

“It does hurt a little bit but if you come through it and you stay out of trouble you can keep your record clean,” Burge said.

Another defense attorney, Victor Bakke, said the agreement would help first-time offenders while allowing prosecutors to focus on repeat offenders.

If the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, defense attorneys involved and MADD can agree on terms, it would be a temporary policy change ― lasting only about a month.

“Such a short time period,” Bakke said. “You’re going to have a mad rush into the system.”

MADD estimates up to 1,000 defendants could be offered the deal.

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