Monday, August 31, 2009

What happens at the NY DMV Drinking Driver Program and VIP Victim Impact Panels?

As a DWI defense lawyer I am often asked, "so what happens at the DDP (drinking driver program) and the VIPs (victim impact panel)?" If your scour the internet very little is divulged about either of these two programs. They do not admit attorneys because I have asked, and they do not even give out a curriculum.

I am a curious person. I have a need to know about things. I am forever inquiring about How things work, and what procedures people follow. I admit I love to go on the internet and find stuff about stuff. Well all that I am about to reveal is after extensive surfing and research.

The completion of these programs is usually necessary to obtain a conditional driving license or privilege to drive in NYS, and to satisfy Conditions of the Court. The DDPs are ongoing programs but the VIPs are given at specific times and dates depending on the county you are in. Some Courts do not require out of state motorists to complete the VIP or the DDP but some require a like (similar) program's completion to satisfy a plea bargain.

Yates County, NY holds two VIPs per year whereas Tompkins County, NY has a VIP every three months. Some counties are just starting to form VIPs. 

How serious are the VIPs taken? Recently in Dryden, NY a person was sent to jail for a failure to attend the program on the specified date. Maybe it would have helped had he not stated in Court to the Judge that his reason for non-attendance was that he decided to go on vacation during the VIP date.

The DDP seeks to examine the arrest experience, evaluate the factors that led to the DWI arrest, and to help drivers make appropriate future driving decisions.

1. It is not merely a class but involves discussion among the participants about problems involving drug and alcohol abuse. Be prepared to interact, this is not a passive experience.

2. The program is seven (7) sessions in total. One (1) session per week. Each session lasts from two to three (2 to 3) hours. Total program time of sixteen (16) hours.

3. The first session discuss the reasons for the program (education and rehabilitation). 
NYS seeks to decrease the personal and property losses due to driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.  The program's original intended goal was educational and not rehabilitative but that has changed over the last thirty years. I think because the political tenor of our country and Courts has shifted to adopt a AA position in regards to the treatment of alcohol and drug problems. The NYS DDP has been around for over 30 years in one form or another. 

4. As discussed before you will participate. You will fill out a drug/alcohol screening form (see the M.A.S.T.), usually the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test or like format. You will write about the night of your arrest, and the events proceeding it. The DDP wants you to look at your behavior, and what led you to this point in your life. This program is about self reflection.

5. There will be two instructors, one who is an alcoholism counselor, and one who is a highway safety expert. Session two will cover traffic safety and safe driving. There will be films to watch and discuss. The alcoholism counselor will decide whether further drug and alcohol evaluation is necessary for each of the participants.

6. Session three connects the use of drugs and/or alcohol with driving safety issues. Myths concerning drinking coffee or splashing cold water or listening to music to sober up are dispelled.

7. The fourth session deals with the physiologic effects of alcohol on the body, and it's various systems. What happens at various blood alcohol levels. How function and behavior are dramatically affected. How alcohol affects the central nervous system See the youtube videos by Father Martin a proponent of AA. This was in the old version of the DDP. New versions don't have Father Martin or the Twelve Steps.

His videos have been used at the DDP. His views and emphasis are on the disease concept of addiction.

8. Session five and six deals with alcoholism as a disease, and discusses alcohol abuse detection. AA (alcoholics anonymous) is discussed and recommended by the DDP. 

9. Session seven is a summary of the course. The sessions as a whole were developed to instill healthy decision making, change the participants attitudes, and prevent future unsafe driving patterns.

The VIP (Victim Impact Panel)

It can run from one to three hours in length.
Some of the speakers will be professional counselors involved in rehabilitation.
Some of the speakers may be people affected directly by drunk driving.
There are usually people affiliated with AA (alcoholics anonymous) who present at the VIP.
You will be breath tested on arrival.
The doors will be locked so be prompt.
You will be observed so do not bring books, ipods, or any distractions or else you will be marked as absent.
Do not fall asleep or else you will be marked as absent.

Some of the ideas, history, and concepts presented in this blog were inspired and adapted from online articles, the book Drunk Driving "an American Dilemma" by James Jacobs, and assorted sources. It is presented merely as an education and information tool in response to many people who have asked me about what really goes on behind closed doors.

Always consult with an attorney about any criminal or non-criminal charges you have pending to discuss your options and/or defenses.

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