“We don’t have a choice to be sick; but we do have a choice to fight for recovery.” – Anonymous.

It was a beautiful summer morning at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk. Joseph was on his way back from his usual morning run. This day was slightly different, though; 49-year-old Joseph was facing prison time for a DUI charge. Florida is known for having one of the strictest DUI laws in the country. If convicted, the charge can reside on your record for seventy-five years, plus you could be faced with additional consequences and charges. Unfortunately, Joseph’s history with the law makes the chances of being charged with a felony and sentenced to prison much higher. 

Despite Joseph’s commitment to his family, staying sober has been a challenging journey. Even after therapy, and commitments, he was never able to recover from his addiction fully. Although Joseph saw a better future for himself, it was always out of reach, and the cycle of addiction kept him hooked. 

At the young age of twelve, Joseph had his first experience with alcohol. As soon as he began to feel the overwhelming effects, he knew he loved it. Whether he knew at that moment or not, his addiction was just about to begin, and his use of alcohol as an escape from reality would slowly take hold of his life. 

Now 49 years old, Joseph is a successful businessman working in the Orlando area. After hours, he spends his nights out with business partners and co-workers, drinking socially as an excuse to fuel his addiction without raising suspicions. However, on the rare night that Joseph is home alone, he indulges in more than several alcoholic drinks without hesitation. His addiction has a firm grip on his life and has completely blurred the lines of his current reality, so much so that he often risks his life and the lives of others driving under the influence. 

The Judicial System and Addiction

After being arrested for his fourth DUI, Joseph could no longer turn a blind eye to his addiction, and the law was going to hold him accountable for his actions. During court proceedings, his lawyers used an addiction defense tactic by incorporating a new test known as the Genetic Addiction Risk Severity (GARS) developed by Dr. Kenneth Blum, supported by testimony from an expert addiction specialist. 

The GARS test identifies a person’s genetic makeup, which predisposes them to compulsive, impulsive, addictive behaviors, and personality disorders. A common theme that these behaviors share is a chemical imbalance in the brain, termed “Reward Deficiency Syndrome.” 

DUI Sentencing Alternatives

It’s extremely dangerous for a person to get behind the wheel while being intoxicated. The statistics shown below for injuries and deaths related to driving under the influence are alarming. 

  • in 2018, there were close to 1,000 alcohol-related fatalities in Florida. 
  • close to a million people are arrested every year for DWI, and more than thirty percent of those detained have previous arrests or convictions for driving while intoxicated.
  • in 2018, there were over 10,000 alcohol-related fatalities in the United States.
  • in the United States, at least one person is killed per hour from a drunk driving accident. 
  • every two minutes, a person is harmed by an intoxicated driver. 

What if there is an underlying explanation to why some people repeatedly get behind the wheel and drive while intoxicated, despite the dangers? Many questions arise on the topic of whether rehabilitation or imprisonment is the right route. However, this new genetic testing might give us some insight into future DUI sentencing. 

Typically, when an individual is charged with a DUI, the judicial system is looking to “punish” the offender based on the theory that they freely chose to drive under the influence. Unfortunately, this places every offender, including those struggling with addiction, into a “one size fits all” category with little to no room to focus on rehabilitation and recovery from addiction. 

With the progression of science, the use of a genetic addiction theory was introduced into the judicial system a few years ago. Using this theory allows courts to provide a sentencing alternative to offenders being charged with DUI. If they meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, offenders can enter into a substance abuse treatment program in place of going to prison. 

DUI offenders can use the addiction theory as a defense in court by presenting the Genetics Addiction Risk Severity (GARS) test. The court can then decide whether repeat offenders will face prison sentences or be allowed to complete substance abuse treatment as an alternative method of sentencing. 

Looking Towards the Future

Over recent years, the GARS test has revolutionized how the judicial system sentences DUI offenders. Decades ago, being able to determine guilt or innocence by using genetic testing was non-existent. As a result of genetic testing, attorneys now have a solid defense of substance use disorder, commonly known as addiction—this defense approach aids in seeking alternative sentencing for offenders that have been charged with a DUI. 

Several factors, including genetics and environment, determine human behavior. Combined, these factors can predispose and increase the chances of an individual developing substance use disorders within their lifetime. Treatment modalities show that rehabilitation programs effectively treat those diagnosed with alcohol or substance abuse disorders despite an individual’s genetic makeup.

In the end, the score Joseph received from his GARS test along with his lawyer’s addiction defense allowed the judge to grant him rehabilitation over imprisonment. Over the next few years, he will have to follow and complete probation stipulations. A few of these stipulations are that he must attend self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, maintain employment, pay court fees, and continue receiving treatment services until he is successfully discharged from the program. Joseph will no longer have the option to drive while under the influence since his license will also be revoked until he has proven his recovery. 

Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and while genetics, environment, and other factors play a role in addiction, it can affect anyone. Not every person is the same; therefore, not every DUI sentencing should be handled the same. This new genetic testing gives offenders a chance to recover from their addiction and live a sober life. If you or someone you know is facing prison time due to a DUI or drug-related charges, and you’re interested in learning more about addiction and recovery, get in touch with Serenity Springs Recovery Center to find out how we can help you today.