MADD Nevada specializes in acquiring victim volunteers willing to share stories alongside the judge-appointed guest speakers, outlining the dangers and consequences of DUI and DUI-related crimes. MADD Nevada Program Coordinator Linda Finch said the positive impact and total outreach of the VIPs reached a new level with the inclusion of the Sparks Justice Court.
“It offers people the opportunity to see the ramifications of what they could have done,” Finch said of the VIP program. “None of the people we host have hurt anybody, they are mostly first-time offenders. My thing is get them the first time and hopefully we can make enough of an impression on them that next time they are in that situation, they will give another thought to it.”
The VIP program has been in place since 2009 after a collaboration between the two entities designed to be “more comprehensive” than simply meeting the needs of the law. The program is offered in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas Justice and Municipal courts, Pahrump Justice Court, East Fork Justice Court and Tahoe Justice Court.
Finch said including victim, first responder and recovery speakers effectively encompasses all sides of DUI crimes, which is then complemented by the judge presiding over the court. She said the 90-minute VIPs are done in an educational form designed to bring comfort to the offenders and help them understand the various factors involved in a single DUI crime.
“Getting the right mix of speakers is probably the most difficult part about the program,” Finch said. “Our VIPs try to have a point to impact people enough that they feel changing is a real possibility.”
Finch said she and one other person speak as victims on the long-term physical and emotional effects of DUI crimes, while a first responder from Topaz Lake describes the images he has seen in a stretch of road between Gardnerville and Topaz. The recovery speaker is a 33-year-old man who has made substantial changes in his life, but still battles some difficulties stemming from a DUI charge.
Sparks-based judges said bringing the VIP program to Sparks speaks to the commitment of MADD Nevada and victims of impaired drivers showing interest in the program. There are high hopes among the judges that it will aid DUI offenders and decrease repeat offenders in the future.
“Having seen for myself how effective a court-based Victim Impact Panel can be, I have every hope that the new program will turn every offender into a spokesperson against drunk driving,” Judge Kevin Higgins of the Sparks Justice Court said.
The MADD Nevada VIPs begin Sept. 24 at the Sparks courts and cost $35, which Finch said funnels back into the non-proft organization to provide advocacy for victims, programming costs and aiding volunteers who travel to various courts.
“Our volunteers do a lot of court observation where we look for trends during DUI cases,” Finch said. “We are really interested in what makes people think they can do it, so we look for trends in how it happened, where it happened and the sentencing given by the judge, which all remains anonymous.”
For more information about MADD Nevada and the Victim Impact Panels being held at Sparks Justice and Municipal courts, visit www.madd.org/local-offices/nv.