Virginia Students Employed to Monitor DUI Courtroom Actions

Citizens in eastern Virginia felt that ticketing drivers for operating vehicles while under the influence was only part of the solution to drunk driving. They wanted to make sure that the judges overseeing DUI cases applied suitable punishment and appropriately enforced the law. To help in that effort, students from the Tidewater Community College were employed to monitor the decisions and actions of judges in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach courtrooms.

Besides keeping an eye on the judges, DUI cases on the court docket are identified and background information on the defendants is compiled, including previous criminal records and resulting verdicts. That information is shared with state and national offices of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which maintains a large computer database.

The Virginia monitoring program was started by Linda Walsh, the vice chair for the state chapter of MADD. Basing her model on a national MADD program of courtroom monitoring, Walsh turned to college students studying criminal justice for the actual labor. Students from the TCC Virginia Beach campus spend 80 hours a semester monitoring courts for which they earn class credit in the Administration of Justice curriculum.

The goal is make sure existing laws are used to combat drunk driving. They are motivated by a concern over suitable punishment not being handed down in DUI cases, citing the fact that traffic accidents involving alcohol have not declined that much even with an increase in law enforcement efforts. They are also concerned about chronic alcoholics and repeat offenders getting back on the roads. They want the courts to hold up their end of a process that started with an arrest by police officers.

Alcohol related vehicular deaths have dropped in Virginia Beach and the monitoring program generally approves of the performance of the area judges.

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