What happens at a Victim Impact Panel?

You’ve driven drunk, and been pulled over. Breathalyzed. Arrested. Convicted. Sentenced.

Depending on the severity of the offense, you might face jail time, or fines. You might have your license suspended or revoked. And there’s a good chance that you’ll be required to have in ignition interlock installed in your vehicle to prevent it from starting if you have been drinking.

Scales of Justice with GavelAlso, depending on your state, you might have to attend a victim impact panel.

Too many drunk drivers see DUI proceedings as all about them: they were the ones who drank, after all. They were arrested, and they are facing all manner of consequences. Some think they’re being unfairly treated, because they didn’t actually hurt anyone. They see their drinking and driving as a private matter.

A victim impact panel is designed to impress upon drunk drivers that their crime is not a private matter. It is a deeply antisocial act whose consequences are potentially lethal. Fines and jail are punishments that should make the offender regret his or her decision; ignition interlocks protect the public by ensuring that the offender does not drive while drunk. But a victim impact panel is where they learn just how much pain they could have caused other people.

What is a victim impact panel?

A group of people whose lives have been affected by drunk driving are assembled. They tell about the death or injury of their loved ones, they show photographs, and they explain how their lives, and the lives of their families, have been changed by the act of one drunk driver. Sometimes a reformed drunk driver will tell his or her story as well.

Is it uncomfortable for the offender? Absolutely, and that’s as it should be. Remember, many drunk drivers focus on their own pain, humiliation, and financial loss. By the time the panel ends, they should have an idea that the pain they might have inflicted on innocents was much worse than anything they were suffering themselvers.

What Doesn’t Happen at the Panels

Many offenders are worried that they’re in for a public shaming, that they’ll be blamed or harassed for their actions. That’s not how it works. The idea is to tell the stories of victims, so that the next time the offender is drinking and considers getting behind the wheel, he or she will see real people on the road.

No method of treatment is foolproof, and nothing works for anyone. But there is evidence that victim impact panels do help reduce recidivism. Combined with other tools to reduce drunk driving – DUI courts and ignition interlocks in particular – victim impact panels help make a difference. They allow the victim’s voice to be heard.