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Vi. Sentencing Support and
Research Needs

As mentioned earlier, the past two decades have witnessed a marked decrease in DWI fatalities and a decrease in impaired driving among the driving public, generally. The past six years, however, have shown stagnation in progress. Despite a growing body of research, the relative contribution of many specific sanctions in reducing impaired driving remains unclear. The research suggests that in addition to sanctioning individual offenders, justice system leaders need to continue or expand their focus on the following areas:

  • Maintaining the general deterrent effects of DWI sanctions on the driving public.
  • Finding ways to increase the certainty and swiftness of apprehending and sanctioning DWI offenders.
  • Expediting and simplifying the adjudication process through evidentiary and procedural improvements (e.g., reducing the amount of paperwork) (Robertson and Simpson, 2002).
  • Addressing the court overload problem, perhaps by assigning DWI cases to specifically trained
  • Improving court records systems and access to other records systems, since about 15 percent of recidivists continue to avoid mandatory penalties. This problem is due in part to the absence of accurate information about the offender or the incident (Goldsmith, 1992), a need which hampers the ability of prosecutors and courts to apply sanctions consistently.
  • Expanding research on the effects of various sanctions, particularly combined sanctions; offenders’ perceptions of the severity of various sanctions; and public perceptions of these sanctions.

Recently, NHTSA’s Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee) established a “Community-Based DWI System Improvement Initiative” focusing on five critical areas: enforcement, prosecution, adjudication, treatment, and evaluation. This system’s improvement strategy is based upon best practices and successful models that already exist in some States. A panel of experts established “gold standards” that a community can measure themselves by to determine strengths and weaknesses in the current DWI system (Cotton and Spencer, 2002). It is envisioned that this community assessment tool can be used to improve DWI systems at the State and community level.