What Effect Does A Victim Impact Panel Have On DUI Recidivism?

Recent research has revealed that victim impact panels (VIP) may have a significant effect on DWI recidivism rates. Numerous federal and state laws have been enacted in an attempt to reduce the number of DWI offenses by repeat offenders and VIP and other therapeutic programs are implemented in communities throughout the nation.

What is Recidivism?

Recidivism is defined as the behavior of a repeat or habitual criminal. Recidivism rates measure how frequently offenders commit additional crimes after being released from jail or prison, either by arrest or conviction baselines. Studies from the Bureau of Justice show that prisoners released from federal prisons have a 44 percent recidivism rate after five years, while prisoners released from state prisons have a 76 percent recidivism rate after five years. In Minnesota, a DWI attorney commonly deals with drunk drivers who are repeat offenders. In the criminal justice system, recidivism is an important factor in sentencing. It’s common to see a person who has a high recidivism rate repeat criminal behavior, even if he/she has received sanctions or interventions for previous offenses.

Victim Impact Panels

The purpose of a VIP program is to help drunk and drugged drivers to recognize and internalize the lasting and long-term effects of substance-impaired driving. Victim Impact Panels seek to create an empathy and understanding of DWI accidents, injuries and fatalities for the offender. Their goal is to change the thinking and behavior of the offender and prevent future offenses from occurring.

At a VIP meeting, injury victims, crash survivors and other people impacted by substance-impaired driving accidents speak briefly about the DWI accident due to which they or a loved one suffered. If the accident resulted in fatalities, family members and friends speak on behalf of the deceased. Speakers share a first-person account of how the DWI accident impacted their lives. Under Minnesota statutes, a Victim Impact Statement may include:

  • A summary of the trauma or harm suffered by the victim as a result of the crime
  • A summary of the economic damages or losses suffered by the victim as a result of the crime
  • A victim’s reaction to the proposed disposition or sentence imposed on the offender

Victim Impact Panels began in the 1980s as court-ordered programs in Washington and Massachusetts. They were started as a way to put drunk drivers face to face with their accident victims, so drivers could hear the devastating effects of their actions. The goal was to keep drunk drivers from becoming repeat offenders. The programs are typically held in courthouse auditoriums or church basements, where three or four victims of a drunk driving accident or loved ones of victims, tell the assembled group of convicted drunk drivers about the emotional effects their tragic losses had on their lives.

For most DWI offenders, a Minnesota Victim Impact Panel is an uncomfortable experience, even though speakers don’t point fingers or place blame. The discomfort is intentional to help drunk drivers focus on the pain their drunk driving has caused for their victims, rather than focusing on their own problems. A DWI attorney often sees drunk drivers, especially repeat offenders, who don’t realize the serious consequences of their actions. Many drunk drivers don’t even recall the details of their accident.

Over the last two decades, Victim Impact Panels have become a mandated part of the judicial system in the U.S. Programs are now mandated in approximately 300 counties within 46 states, including Minnesota. Although these programs are mandated, the effects on drunk drivers is controversial. Results show that the programs may only prevent a small percentage of drunk drivers from drinking and driving again. A DWI attorney commonly sees people with alcohol addiction problems who repeatedly drink and drive, regardless of the consequences.

How Effective Are Victim Impact Panels?

Studies on drunk driving show that drunk drivers who are arrested for a first offense have a 20 to 28 percent chance of being arrested for a second drunk driving offense. Studies show that Victim Impact Panels can reduce repeat offenses by as little as 10 percent to as much as 65 percent, depending on the physical and emotional state of the driver. In a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, re-arrest rates were compared for offenders before and after a victim impact panel over a 12 month period. Research found that drunk drivers who attended a VIP had a six percent re-arrest rate, compared to drivers who did not attend with a 15 percent re-arrest rate.

Drunk drivers who contact a DWI attorney after an arrest may be facing serious penalties including jail time and steep fines. According to many law officials, other solutions such as lowering blood alcohol limits, installing ignition locks, impounding vehicles, and jail time might be better ways to prevent repeat drunk driving offenses than Victim Impact Panels.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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