DUI first time offenders accept lesser conviction in efforts to speed up court backlogs

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Prosecutors and defense lawyers are turning to compromise to get cases moving through the courts. They have agreed on a lesser conviction for first-time DUI offenders in an effort to reduce the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic.

A temporary plea deal to reduce an Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant conviction (OVUII) into a reckless driving conviction could be an option for people with no previous criminal history.

Defense lawyer Jason Burks said, this is an unprecedented compromise that would be difficult to achieve if the backlog in the courts was not an issue.

“We’ve tried to get this plea deal on unique circumstances and we you know, rarely or never been able to do it,” Burks said. “This is definitely an exceptional deal not available for ordinary circumstances.”

Burks said, this could be another chance for some people arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. An OVUII conviction might not follow some first-time offenders for the rest of their lives but certain penalties will remain.

Florence Nakakuni, head of the misdemeanor division in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said this deal still comes with penalties, such as one year of an ignition interlock device being required in the person’s car. The offender will also agree to conditions such as alcohol education classes and a substance abuse assessment.

If the person goes one year without any legal trouble, however, their record will be cleared.

Nearly 500 cases have entered into this agreement as of Thursday, March 4.

“You might think, yea it’s unfair. I mean, why should we do this?” Nakakuni said, “We’re doing this as a compromise to deal with the backlog, because if we didn’t resolve these cases in this manner, as I said before, chances are good, that many of them would be just dismissed.”

Both sides agree that it is impossible for the courts to go through the load of back-up cases through speedy trials.

Kurt Kendro is a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) public policy committee member. He said, MADD agrees with the compromise since the drivers will still go through a year of probation. Any other similar offense could remove the deal.

Kendro said, “MADD feels that these are consequences that are adequate so that the person will consider not re-offending in the future.”

Nakakuni said, there are over 900 first-time offenders on suspicion of driving impaired. She added, this deal is in effect through Friday, April 2, and discussions are ongoing about a possible extension.

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