Lancaster DUI Court Year One: Over 2,400 Cases – and Counting – Moving Faster

More than 2,400 cases have gone through Lancaster County’s DUI Central Court in just over a year since the program launched.

Officials say DUI cases are moving faster and more efficiently than ever before, resulting in reductions of man-hours and costs, and offenders getting into treatment quicker with the aim of reducing repeat offenses.

DUI Central Court convenes twice a month at the Lancaster County Courthouse, where defendants typically opt to enter the ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) program, waive their preliminary hearing for guilty plea offers, enter a guilty plea, or have a preliminary hearing.

About 80 cases are called for each Central Court session.

From the program’s launch in October 2015 to November of this year, 2,473 cases went through Central Court; one of the aforementioned actions was taken at the first session in over 1,900 of those cases.

Court officials say that translates to more cases being resolved much faster.

Previously, the earliest a case could be resolved from the time the charge was filed was about five months, officials said. Some cases, under the new format, have been resolved within 30 days.

“Our DUI Central Court has succeeded even beyond our initial expectations,” Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker said. “It has streamlined the system and resulted in resolution of a vast number of these cases in timeframes that were previously unimaginable.”

On average, between 1,500 and 1,700 DUI charges are filed each year in Lancaster County.

This year, guilty pleas have been entered in 176 cases on the defendant’s first Central Court date –resulting in a 10 percent reduction of DUI cases that feed into the Court of Common Pleas, according to Assistant District Attorney Ande Gonzalez, lead prosecutor in the program.

Previously, initial hearings in DUI cases were scheduled and held individually at the district court with jurisdiction of the respective cases. The next steps, such as application and entrance into ARD, had to happen separately. The process was time consuming.  Now, every key player in the process meets at the downtown courthouse where cases are resolved or placed on a faster track toward resolution.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, who conceived and proposed DUI Central Court, said the increased efficiency is saving taxpayer money, getting defendants into treatment faster, and keeping police officers on the street rather than in court.

“I knew it would be successful, but it has exceeded even my expectations and the benefits have been exponential,” Stedman said.

Huge savings are evident in police officer resources.

In the prior format, police officers assigned to a case would have to go to court at nearly every step of the process.

For DUI Central Court, officers only go to court when a preliminary hearing is being held – that happens in roughly 6 percent of the entire caseload, or 1 out of 16 cases.

Jack Mentzer, Elizabethtown’s police chief, said he initially had reservations about the program. He was concerned his officers would spend too much time making the long trip downtown and then sitting in court for hearings.

Instead, Mentzer has found DUI Central Court has “streamlined the process” for everyone involved.

His department has put about 70 DUI cases into DUI Central Court.

 “I’m quite happy with how it has played out,” Chief Mentzer said.

MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; bhambright@co.lancaster.pa.us; Twitter: @BrettHambright