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Number of DUI charges in Lancaster County decreased in 2017

LANCASTER, NE Fox 43 News — The number of driving under the influence charges in Lancaster County decreased in 2017, according to a report from the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.

A total of 1,558 DUI-related criminal dockets were filed by law enforcement in Lancaster County last year, the DA’s office says. In 2016, there were 1,662 dockets filed in Lancaster County law enforcement.

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Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman noted the chance of a one-year aberration, but stressed the number of DUI cases in the past four years — an average of 1,596 per year — is significantly lower than the four-year period prior, when an average of 1,717 cases were filed each year.

Stedman’s office attributes the decrease to several possibilities, including:

  • Prosecution reform which gets at-risk offenders into treatment/on restriction, like SCRAM, faster than before. SCRAM and other restrictions are part of the county’s DUI Repeat Offender Program (DROP);
  • Increased use of driver services, like Uber, Lyft and taxis;
  • Police efforts/checkpoints and enforcement deterrent;
  • Public awareness and perceptions.

Implemented in the fall of 2016, DUI Central Court convenes twice a month at the Lancaster County Courthouse, where defendants typically opt to enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, waive their preliminary hearing for guilty plea offers, enter a guilty plea, or have a preliminary hearing.

About 80 cases are called for each Central Court session. Assistant District Attorneys Ande Gonzalez and Trista Boyd are lead prosecutors.

Last year, at each session, action was taken in 74 percent of cases. Action is defined as a plea/sentencing (only in first-offense cases), a guilty plea, or a case being held over after a preliminary hearing or waiver of that hearing.

As part of reform, at-risk offenders — those charged with a second or subsequent DUI — are immediately placed on SCRAM, which monitors alcohol intake, and other restrictions, such as no-alcohol orders, or drug-alcohol treatment programs.

Those measures, Stedman said, could be factors in limiting the number of new DUI charges overall. Those most at-risk offenders, Stedman explained, are not drinking or continuing to drive.

“And we have found that repeat DUI offenders are some of the most dangerous individuals on our roadways,” Stedman said.

Previously, initial hearings in DUI cases were scheduled and held individually at the district court with jurisdiction of the respective cases. The next steps, such as application and entrance into ARD, previously happened separately. Now, everyone involved in the process meets at the downtown courthouse where cases are resolved or placed on a faster track toward resolution.

Essentially, a process that used to take up to a year is now taking weeks, in many cases.

Stedman is hopeful public perception of DUI is changing, while noting that is still a work in progress.

“Potential DUI offenders should at least be aware that police officers in this county vigorously target intoxicated drivers and my office prosecutes those cases in the same manner,” Stedman said. “It is also becoming more-common knowledge that a DUI charge is costly in so many regards — financially, socially, and can result in the taking of a life.”