In North Dakota, a judge in Fargo Municipal Court gave three DWI offenders a choice. They either had to spend five days in Cass County jail or attend the funeral of a West Fargo couple and their 18-month old baby who were killed by another intoxicated driver in a tragic head-on vehicle collision. The driver, who was driving the wrong way and had a BAC of 0.25%, was also killed in the car accident.
All three DWI offenders chose to attend the funeral over jail time. They submitted proof of their presence at the funeral.
The judge’s unconventional sentence in North Dakota has raised some arguments that non-traditional punishments on DWI offenders could deter DWI related conduct. Some people say that the town needs to impose heavier punishments to prevent drunk driving, especially since there has been an increasing rate of Fargo DWI arrests over the past few years.
The judge said that offenders in North Dakota are often sentenced to attend Victim Impact Panels to get a feel of how drunk driving can affect the lives of car accident victims and their families. However, the recent car accident that killed the family of three and the other car’s driver was just so dreadful that he wanted the DWI offenders to learn from the event instead of having them attend victim impact panels.
The judge also added that the accident has drawn enough public attention. While he didn’t want to impose on the victims’ family with the sentence he gave, he felt the DWI offenders’ presence could go unnoticed as other people who didn’t know the victims would be attending the funeral as well. He also believed that this kind of sentencing can help people realize the kind of tragedy that may result from drinking and driving, and how it affects real lives and real families.
The Safe Communities Coalition in Fargo says that the judge’s form of sentencing is similar to attending Victim Impact Panels required of many other offenders. When convicted DWI offenders make the choice, then their choice is more likely to have an impression on them. When they take part of the decision on their punishment, they support what they choose to do.
Fargo police expressed that this type of sentencing, which could have a strong impact on DWI offenders, could also help pick up the slack for very lenient penalties. They further assert that anything that can be done to help maximize penalties and deter people from driving under the influence of alcohol is in the best interests of law enforcement. Witnessing something emotional could be more difficult for an offender to handle, but it’s likely to be more effective than simply serving a jail sentence.
Some Fargo residents resent the idea of allowing DWI offenders to choose their own punishments. Instead, they believe that the judge and the jury should give them the proper judgment that they believe the offenders deserve. One resident says that any offender would absolutely prefer to trade days, weeks or months of jail time for a very lenient sentence. According to some Fargo residents, the big issue with this case is that it’s a drunk driving offense, which can kill anyone on the road.
After attending the funeral, one of the three offenders wrote to the court, stating that he now realized how drunk driving could change lives in a matter of split seconds, and that driving and alcohol don’t mix. The 55-year old offender also added in his letter, “It made me sick to my stomach 4 lives were taken when they had a lifetime they never got.”
Victim Impact Panel Program in Minnesota
Minnesota also has a Victim Impact Panel Program that is designed for individuals charged and convicted with DWI. Offenders should attend the two-hour program if the court has ordered them to do so as a condition of their sentence. The speakers present their experience as drunk driving crash victims and how their lives were affected by vehicular accidents. The offenders are usually asked to speak on the destruction they caused.
The panel promotes awareness and education on the risks of drinking and driving. Members of the panel provide the DWI offenders’ audience and guests with their personal perspective on how drunk driving can cause pain and devastation to victims and their families.
Source: WDAY News