Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Evaluations: What Are They and How The Process Works

The purpose of drug and alcohol evaluations, what they entail, and the consequences of failing to complete a mandatory evaluation.

By , Attorney · Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Most states require a person convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs ("DUI") to complete a substance abuse evaluation. Some states also require the evaluation as a condition of participating in programs— such as diversions and deferred sentencing—that allow the offender to avoid a DUI conviction.

Typically, substance abuse evaluations must be administered by an agency certified by the state. While the overall purpose, process, and types of assessments and treatment programs are similar, each state has its own requirements.

This article provides an overview of the common circumstances leading to a court-ordered drug and alcohol assessment, what the evaluation consists of, and what happens after the evaluation.

What's the Purpose of a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

A substance abuse evaluation is used to identify the possible presence and extent of an offender's drug and/or alcohol problem. The evaluation also allows for the development of a treatment plan designed to address the person's specific circumstances.

Are Substance Abuse Evaluations Required in All DUI Cases?

Most, but not all, states require DUI offenders to obtain a substance abuse evaluation.

Some states require the evaluation to be completed before an offender is sentenced. In those states, the substance abuse evaluation impacts how a judge sentences an offender and can sometimes reduce, eliminate, or increase penalties that would otherwise be imposed. Other states require the evaluation within a certain period of time after sentencing as a condition of probation or part of a diversion, deferred sentencing, or similar program.

How Does the Substance Abuse Evaluation Process Work?

A court-ordered evaluation typically consists of a detailed interview with a certified treatment provider. The provider also reviews the offender's substance abuse and criminal history, driving record, and arrest report. Sometimes the offender is required to provide a drug and alcohol urinalysis screening as well.

Based on the interview, supporting documents, and results of the urinalysis, the treatment provider will typically make a recommendation for a specific treatment program.

How Much Do Substance Abuse Evaluations Cost?

Generally, the offender is responsible for the costs of the evaluation and the treatment program. The substance abuse evaluation fee varies by state, but it's typically around $100 to $150 and is paid directly to the agency performing the evaluation.

What Kinds of Recommendations do Substance Abuse Evaluators Make?

The types of recommendations a substance abuse evaluator might make depend heavily on whether the evaluation indicates the offender has chemical dependency issues.

When the Evaluation Indicates the Offender has Chemical Dependency Issues

If the evaluation determines that an offender has a substance abuse condition, there will typically be a treatment recommendation. The types of treatment programs vary by state. But generally, treatment programs must provide a curriculum that includes counseling, assessments, and risk reduction.

Depending on the state's requirements and the recommendations of the evaluator, a DUI offender may be required to complete any number of the following:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and/or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings
  • substance abuse education or counseling sessions
  • random drug and alcohol testing
  • an outpatient treatment program
  • an inpatient treatment program, and
  • individual or group treatment sessions.

The state's requirements ordinarily determine the length and curriculum of the treatment programs. However, generally, the more significant the substance abuse problem, the longer and more intense the required treatment program will be.

When the Evaluation Shows No Substance Abuse Issues

Sometimes the evaluation determines that a DUI offender doesn't have a substance abuse disorder or addiction. For example, the circumstances of the arrest might indicate the DUI was the result of a single instance of bad judgment rather than a substance abuse problem.

However, even if no drug or alcohol issues are identified, many states still require DUI offenders to complete a substance abuse education course or some other minimum requirements.

What Happens If I Don't Complete a Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Evaluation?

Failing to complete an evaluation and/or a treatment program can result in a probation violation, harsher sentencing, or revocation of a diversion or similar program. Additionally, the department of motor vehicles generally won't reinstate a DUI offender's driving privileges until proof of completion of the evaluation and treatment program are provided.

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