Drunk driving is not treated like other crimes in California. There are specific penalties that come with a drunk driving conviction that other offenses just don't have. Part of the DUI punishments are not just to penalize the driver but to reduce the chances that the driver would ever drive under the influence again. One of these penalties involves participating in a Victim Impact Panel.
Anyone arrested for a DUI in the East Bay has legal rights to defend themselves. Without a legal defense, the driver may be convicted of a crime or have to plead guilty to get reduced penalties. Before pleading guilty, make sure you understand your legal rights and what options you can take to avoid a criminal record. Contact a knowledgeable East Bay DUI defense lawyer to defend your rights.
What Is a Victim Impact Panel?
A victim impact panel (VIP) is a panel of crime victims who can speak to offenders about the way their lives and their families have been impacted by the crime. For a DUI offense, the victims are usually made up of victims of drunk driving accidents and family or friends of someone who was seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver.
Panelists could include a child who lost their parent in a drunk driving accident, someone paralyzed by an accident, or a parent who lost their child to an impaired driving accident. Each panelist usually spends about 15 minutes telling their story, which is supposed to be told in a non-judgmental manner, to really connect with participants.
Victim impact panels were started in the early 1980s by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Attending a VIP is generally a court-ordered requirement for probation or a diversion program. Feedback has been generally positive, from both the participants and the panelists. Goals of victim impact panels include:
- Help DUI offenders understand the impact of impaired driving on victims and communities.
- Provide victims with an outlet to share their personal experiences and educate DUI offenders about the physical, emotional, and financial consequences of drunk driving.
- Raise awareness in the community and among drivers of the short-term and long-term impacts of impaired driving.
Do Victim Impact Panels Work?
According to MADD, “the purpose of the Victim Impact Panel (VIP) program is to help drunk and drugged driving offenders recognize and internalize the lasting and long-term effects of substance-impaired driving. The classes seek to create empathy and understanding of the tragedy, leave a permanent impression that leads to changes in thinking and behavior, and prevent future offenses.”
According to the California criminal courts, most offenders who complete evaluations after attending a VIP indicated the experience was positive and educational. Most attendees also responded that the experience “contributed to a change in their attitudes and perceptions about their crimes.
Can I Attend a Victim Impact Panel Online?
Before the coronavirus pandemic, VIPs generally had to be attended in person. However, since COVID-19, online victim impact panels have been available. If you do not want to attend in person, you may have to demonstrate that you cannot attend an in-person panel because of remote location or health concerns. It is generally up to the court to determine whether or not you qualify for online VIP participation.
If you do not live in an area near a VIP location, you may also qualify for an online option. You can visit MADD's VIP page to find a location near you or see if you are eligible for online attendance. The online program is smartphone compatible and available at any time. After completing the online program, you will receive your certificate of attendance immediately.
What Are the Alternatives to a Victim Impact Panel?
The penalties for a DUI and probationary requirements sometimes vary by county and even by the criminal court judge. If you don't want to do the impact panel after a DUI conviction, the judge may not be very flexible in offering an alternative. If you are not able to convince the judge that an alternative would fulfill the purpose of a VIP, it may be a requirement of your probation.
If you don't complete the Victim Impact Panel or fail to complete other conditions of your DUI probation, the court could issue a warrant for your arrest. Probation is an alternative to incarceration and failure to complete the requirements could mean going back to jail to serve out the rest of the sentence. If you don't think you can complete the VIP in time, you may be able to ask the court for more time. Talk to your East Bay DUI defense lawyer about your options.
Where Can I Find a Victim Impact Panel in the East Bay?
There are VIP programs available all over the state of California, including here in the East Bay. MADD has a list of VIPs in California, including in the following areas in the East Bay:
Alameda County Victim Impact Panels
Contra Costa County Victim Impact Panels
- Contra Costa: Contra Costa Probation Department
- Pittsburg: Los Medanos College Library
- Richmond: Richmond City Council Chambers
- Walnut Creek: Presbyterian Church
Experienced DUI Defense Attorney
A Victim Impact Panel can be a positive experience for drivers and may reduce the chances of reoffending. Attending a VIP could be used as part of a DUI diversion program, so that by completing the terms of diversion, the offense will be cleared from your record. Diversion allows you to avoid the harsh penalties of a drunk driving conviction while benefiting from DUI school, substance abuse counseling, and hearing from victims of DUIs. Talk to your DUI defense attorney about how you can avoid a DUI conviction.
Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay DUI defense experience and understands the penalties involved with California DUI charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success to keep her clients out of jail. If you are facing drunk driving charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact Lynn Gorelick.