The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 30, 2020 1:00 am

New proposal for impaired drivers

County could turn to special court to address addiction

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Residents facing felony drunken- or drugged-driving charges soon could be offered more legal options. 

Allen Circuit court is poised to implement Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated Court, a first-of-its-kind effort to provide treatment and lesser charges to defendants, possibly this week. OVWI Court would join five other local problem-solving courts focused on shuttling people away from jails and prisons and into productive lives. 

Officials with the Indiana Office of Court Services – the agency responsible for certifying problem-solving courts – met virtually Monday with local leaders to review paperwork and ensure proposed guidelines meet established criteria for the special court, which could include up to 100 of the more than 200 cases in Allen County each year. 

“It certainly puts us ahead of the curve,” Judge Thomas Felts said. “I've been wanting to do this for a long time.”

Problem-solving courts, in place in many of Indiana's 92 counties, are designed to keep offenders from returning to judicial and prison systems. A February report by the National Institute of Justice found the courts “expedite case processing and reduce caseload and time to disposition, thus increasing trial capacity for more serious crimes” and address issues such as addiction that typically would not involve the judiciary. 

Programs in Allen Circuit and Superior courts include help for veterans and people fighting mental health and addiction problems. 

OVWI Court will include alcohol or drug treatment and close monitoring by court officials. Those who complete the two-year program will have charges reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. 

“Our goal ... is for these people to come out on the other side and get back into the community and be productive citizens,” Magistrate Steven Godfrey said. “(We will) try to end this cycle of spending boatloads of money to incarcerate these people. It's going to benefit the community.”

Allen County has been among the first in Indiana to adopt problem-solving courts, including Drug Court, which was launched in Superior Court in 1996. 

Angie Haley, deputy director of the state Office of Court Services, lauded judicial officers for considering innovative approaches to justice. 

“They've always been willing to look at new initiatives,” she said. “Allen County has piloted more things than I can think of.”

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