If you're a government entity, it's laudable to try and be as efficient as possible. That's apparently what one county in Pennsylvania is attempting to do.
Starting next week, Lancaster County will begin operating a DUI Central Court, which aims to streamline the judicial process for those accused of driving under the influence. Last year, almost 30 percent of the cases in the county were DUIs. So county officials have set up a system that sets aside two Thursdays per month when a specific court hears nothing but DUI cases. Some 75 to 90 DUI cases are expected to be adjudicated during each DUI Central Court session.
Officials say that each DUI defendant will get a court date about a month after the offense, and first-time offenders will get a chance to participate in an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program. Because DUI penalties are fairly consistent, officials believe that the DUI Central Court will make the entire judicial system more efficient by removing these cases from the regular caseload that all of its courts must deal with.
But will that really be the case?
One county tried a similar approach for two years, but this week announced that it will be reverting back to its standard system of dealing with DUIs. Ironically, that county is Montgomery County, Pennsylvania - whose boundary is less than 20 miles away from Lancaster County.
Officials in "Montco" said that its DUI-focused court was overloaded with cases and that the judges on the court were swamped. Last year, more than 1,250 DUI trials were heard in the court.
Furthermore, public defenders felt that the "streamlined" approach led to harsher penalties for low-level offenders because of the standardized sentencing which took place in the special court. The head of the DUI public defender team, John E. Kravitz, told the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"People who had problems with depression and anxiety, maybe took an extra Xanax and were driving erratically, would be punished the same way as someone who was having 10 beers and gets behind the wheel."
Though there may be differences in the way each county operates its specialized DUI court system, the problems in Montgomery County should serve as a warning to prosecutors in Lancaster County that the new system may not be as efficient - or as fair - as they think it will be.