DUI is one of the most pervasive and persistent charges filed through the Cumberland County criminal justice system, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all new cases each year.
On average, four new cases for DUI incidents have been started in the local courts every single day this year, according to Cumberland County Insight.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said the DUI cases jump up to about a third to 40 percent of all the work done in his office.
Freed cited strong enforcement by law enforcement as one of the driving factors for the volume of DUI cases.
“I don’t get very many complaints in this office that we are too aggressive on DUI enforcement, in fact, I don’t get any,” Freed said. “Because of that aggressive enforcement you will have the people who tend to drive under the influence more often, you’ll have them caught.”
For the majority of people who get arrested for DUI, that arrest is enough to change their behavior and they are never arrested for similar conduct again.
Those cases can be handled through a diversionary program known as advanced rehabilitative disposition which can mitigate or eliminate the lasting consequences of criminal conviction.
“Those are people who may not even have a substance-use disorder,” Freed said. “They may have made some bad choices and got caught. That’s a certain percentage.
“Then, there’s the percentage that just seems that if they get caught once, they are much more likely to get caught again,” he said. “That, of course, speaks to people who do actually have a substance-use disorder.”
Between 2010 and 2015 more than 400 people were charged with multiple DUIs in Cumberland County, according an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.
The Sentinel looked at all criminal dockets entered into the county court system and identified dockets listing the name multiple times for DUI charges.
The analysis only includes dockets entered in Cumberland County and only accounts for those started between 2010 and 2015.
Any DUI arrest outside the county or outside that time frame would not be included in the analysis.
In one case a woman was arrested seven times in roughly two and a half years for DUI inside Cumberland County.
While the majority of the repeat DUI offenders were picked up twice, five were arrested five times, seven were arrested four times and nearly 50 arrested three times, according to the analysis.
These offenders accounted for roughly 9 percent of the roughly 5,300 people charged with DUI in Cumberland County between 2010 and 2015.
Freed said the 9 percent mark felt low to him, indicating more repeat DUI offenders would identified if the parameters were expanded.
The analysis also identified 381 people who were charged with driving on a suspended license for DUI with a blood alcohol content above 0.02 percent.
“There are DUI offenders who don’t have a drinking problem,” Jack Carroll, executive director for the Cumberland-Perry Drug and Alcohol Commission, said. “There are people who do dumb things. ... The outcome for somebody who doesn’t have a problem isn’t really to get them an assessment (for substance-abuse treatment). For them it would be to educate them.”
Carroll said this could include teaching defendants how different kinds of alcohol impact blood alcohol content or better understanding how many drinks it takes for them to reach the legal limit, so they can better make decisions that don’t endanger lives and put themselves at legal risks.
“For someone in that situation, it really is more an educational intervention situation,” he said.
For others, who seem to have a persistent substance abuse problem, both Freed and Carroll said treatment is likely needed to deal with the underlying problem that brought the person into the judicial system.
“Treatment is more effective than putting people in jail for DUIs,” Freed said. “The problem is DUIs also carry license suspensions, and I don’t believe license suspensions are terribly effective, because I think many people because of life circumstances just ignore them.”
Freed said he is not opposed to license suspensions and said his office attempts to make sure it gets the suspension that is appropriate.
Under Pennsylvania law any conviction for a DUI can carry between a 12- and 18-month license suspension, according to PennDOT.
The only exception to this is for first time offenders whose blood alcohol content is less than 0.1 percent, according to PennDOT.
Overall, crashes involving an intoxicated driver are trending down, according to the Pennsylvania DUI Association.
Total DUI related crashes fell from more than 12,000 in 2010 to about 10,500 in 2014, the Pennsylvania DUI Association reported.
Fatal crashes have fallen as well, dropping from 5.2 deaths per 100,000 people in the state in 2010 to 3.7 per 100,000 people in 2014.
Between 2010 and 2015, there were six people charged with homicide by vehicle while DUI and 17 charged with aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI in Cumberland County, according to Cumberland County Insight.
“The problems we have with alcohol and the number of cases we have, the damage done by people under the influence of alcohol to themselves, to their families is significant,” Freed said. “… It’s a problem, and it’s a significant problem.
“I’ve tried a ton of DUI cases,” he added. “… I do think the focus is appropriately on treatment, and we do the best we can, but we have so many cases, and treatment costs and that becomes difficult, as well.”