Some jurisdictions believe harsh penalties for first DWI offenders effectively deter them from ever considering driving after drinking in the future. However, research clearly shows piling on financial penalties and supervision conditions for this population may unnecessarily disrupt prosocial activities and relationships that lead to positive outcomes. Over-sanctioning can also create a hopelessness one can ever get out from under the consequences of their actions. Thus, the result is an adverse impact on recidivism, meaning these individuals are more likely to continue to offend (Gendreau 1995; Andrews & Bonta 1998; McGuire 2001, 2002).
Furthermore, a prosecutorial policy that encourages over-sanctioning true first DWI offenders can lead to more trials and fewer convictions. Policy makers must realize that the DWI defense bar will often calculate the cost-benefit ratio of pleading to the standard first offense versus a not guilty plea and a trial. If the standard plea has overly harsh results then a trial (particularly a jury tried case) may be considered the better option.
Consider, that the prosecutor already has a high burden of proof and DWI cases require extra care given the legal/scientific requirements of proving impairment. Trials are dynamic events. Mistakes can happen, witnesses can forget, paperwork can go missing and defense attorneys can minutely cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Even impaired defendants can be acquitted as a result. There is no treatment nor judicially ordered follow-up for an acquitted defendant. So, an overly harsh prosecution policy can have a negative community impact.
First offense DWI defendants: