Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

8th Circuit District announces DUI Court program

April 10, 2006

The 8th Circuit District Drug Court has expanded to include special programs for DUI offenders and probation violators. Circuit Judge Vernon R. Cotten will discuss the new innovations for the Drug Court program at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 12, in the courtroom at the Leake County Courthouse in Carthage. The news media and the public are invited.

Judge Cotten and the Drug Court staff have added the DUI program to address the underlying problem of substance abuse in some alcohol-related traffic offenses. Some offenders facing charges of third time felony driving under the influence of alcohol may be accepted into the Drug Court.

Judge Cotten has operated a Drug Court since January 2004 in the 8th Circuit District, which includes Leake, Neshoba, Newton and Scott counties. There are now approximately 65 people in the program.

The 8th Circuit District Drug Court will place DUI offenders in a five year program. DUI offenders will be required to plead guilty. They will spend three months in the county jail, with the remaining 57 months under intense supervision, Judge Cotten said.

After completing the jail time, they will spend 30, 60 or 90 days in treatment, said Drug Court Coordinator Marcus Ellis. After completing treatment, participants must meet once a week with the judge and once a week with the staff, as well as attend numerous Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Ellis calls it “90 meetings in 90 days.”

A third DUI offense within five years is a felony punishable by one to five years in the custody of the Department of Corrections and fines of $2,000 to $5,000 under Mississippi Code Section 63-11-30. An attorney general’s opinion states that the mandatory one year sentence may be served under house arrest.

Judge Cotten said a high recidivism rate among alcohol-related offenders indicates to him that conventional jail sentences don’t cure the problem. He believes treatment is needed with strict supervision and testing for alcohol use. Judge Cotten said the intense supervision provided in Drug Court will be tougher and more effective.

Probation officers who supervise DUI offenders may make house calls with a Breathalyzer machine and urinalysis. Drug and alcohol screening are random, but frequent, including on weekends and holidays, Ellis said.

“There is absolutely zero tolerance,” Ellis said. A positive test means a trip to jail, although incarceration may not be permanent.

Those who test positive for alcohol use may be permitted a second chance, but will have to wear a device which monitors for the presence of alcohol in perspiration. The ankle bracelet, known as the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM, tests for alcohol consumption every hour.

The SCRAM monitor costs the participant between $5 and $10 a day. “None of this is going to cost the taxpayers a dime,” Ellis said.

The Drug Court program also will start accepting probation violators who are in violation of the terms of their probation because of positive drug tests. Participants will be limited to those whose original crimes would have made them eligible for Drug Court. Violators would spend the remainder of their probationary time under the supervision of the Drug Court.