What is a DWI Court?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 12 February 2020
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A driving while intoxicated (DWI) court is a court that focuses on handling DWI cases, where people drive while drunk or drinking alcohol. Some courts may handle a mixture of alcohol and drug cases, dealing with substance abuse in general, while others just hear cases involving DWI charges. At the court, the judge hears cases and issues sentences with the goal of providing treatment to the offender to reduce recidivism and hold the person accountable. This differs slightly from a traditional court model, where the focus is on punishing offenders.

Many regions have a DWI court. To be heard in this court rather than the regular court, the charges usually need to involve a habitual offender or someone arrested with a very high blood alcohol content (BAC). This allows the court to focus on the drivers most at risk of recidivism, as their behavior suggests a high probability that they will drink and drive again. As with regular court, people at a DWI court have legal representation and can work with the prosecutor and the judge on a plea bargain as well as be heard in open court.


The judge will hear the case and make a decision based on the facts presented. If the offender is guilty, the judge offers the opportunity to attend an alcohol treatment program. Offenders who agree to attend a treatment program, check in regularly with a probation officer, and fulfill other terms can receive a shortened or suspended sentence. They may also need to pay fines, depending on the policies at the court.

As long as the offender meets the terms, attending counseling sessions, checking in with a supervisor, and performing other tasks, that person will remain in good standing with the court. Offenders who do not can be subject to fines and jail time because they violate the agreement made with the DWI court. Judges will warn people about the consequences for failing to abide by the terms of the sentence so they are aware ahead of time.

The DWI court system appears to reduce recidivism. Studies in communities where this option is available show a reduction in drunk driving in general and repeat cases in particular. The same model can be useful for drug-related offenses. Simply punishing offenders may not address the underlying causes of the substance abuse, and tends to more likely result in a repeat of the crime. Providing rehabilitation through a DWI court to people who are willing to work for it can offer another option.


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