STOP DUI group pushes for required attendance at victim-impact sessions

CARSON CITY (AP) — Legislators were urged Monday to tighten Nevada laws to ensure that people convicted of drunken driving in urban areas attend meetings with victims or family or close friends of DUI victims.

Assembly Judiciary members were told the victim-impact sessions must be part of the process, along with fines, possible jail time and other penalties, that drunken drivers undergo so that they don’t continue to drink and drive.

Sandy Heverly of Las Vegas-based STOP DUI said AB209 makes clear that people attend the victim-impact sessions rather than be allowed by judges to watch an online video aimed at stopping drunken driving.

Heverly said the in-person sessions keep most people from repeat DUI offenses, while the online video approach “bastardizes the purpose and concept” of the victim-impact meetings. She also said the videos are “a way to make a quick buck with total disregard for the outcome.”

North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Stephen Dahl opposed AB209, saying he supports the victim-impact sessions but judges should have an option in such cases rather than be locked into an “in person or nothing” requirement.

Dahl also said he heard of instances in which people were turned away from the panels because they were too crowded, and were told to show up five hours early for the next such session — held monthly — and wait in line. But Heverly said people were only turned away once, during stormy weather in December.

Zachary Larson of LRS Systems, contacted by rural judges to create an online program to meet the victim-impact requirement, said Heverly was off base to say his company was trying to make a “quick buck.”

Larson said the videos are “a very small part” of what LRS Systems does, and any money generated by the online programs goes to victims.

Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, told Judiciary Committee members that he was agreeable to an amendment ensuring that judges retain the option of letting people convicted of DUIs skip a victim-impact session if one isn’t available within 60 miles of their homes.

Dahl said that flexibility is important because someone traveling, for example, from Ely to Battle Mountain to attend one of the sessions would have a round-trip drive of more than 400 miles.

The committee also reviewed AB210, which requires someone arrested for first-offense drunken driving to go through an alcoholism evaluation if the person’s blood-alcohol level was 0.15 or higher. That’s nearly double Nevada’s 0.08 blood-alcohol limit in DUI cases.

The bill also lowers from 0.18 to 0.15 the alcohol concentration level in state law that requires a person to serve a sentence rather than go through a treatment program for a first-offense DUI.

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