Fargo judge gives unconventional choice to DUI offendersFARGO, N.D. (WDAY TV) - When three DUI offenders stood in Fargo Municipal Court, they may not have expected their sentence would become the talk of the town.
By: Becky Parker, WDAY Staff Reports, WDAY
FARGO, N.D. (WDAY TV) - When three DUI offenders stood in Fargo Municipal Court, they may not have expected their sentence would become the talk of the town.
A judge gave them a choice: serve jail time, or attend the funeral of the Deutscher family, killed by a drunk driver July 6th. The driver of the pickup was headed the wrong way on I-94 and collided head on with the Deutscher's.
An unconventional sentence is raising the argument that non-traditional punishments could deter drunk driving in North Dakota.
Fargo Municipal Judge Steve Dawson gave three DUI offenders the option to attend the July 12th funeral of the Deutschers, a West Fargo family killed by a drunk driver.
All three chose the funeral over jail time.
Robyn Litke, Safe Communities Coordinator: “When they make the choice, it probably has more of an impression on them. By them being a part of the decision I think it really gathers their support for what they have chosen to do.”
Robyn Litke, with the Safe Communities Coalition, says it's similar to "victim impact panels" that many offenders are required to attend as a sentence.
Some say North Dakota needs stricter punishments to deter drunk driving and DUI arrests rates in Fargo have gone up for the past few years.
Fargo Police says more impactful sentencings like this one could help pick up the slack for penalties that are too lenient.
Joel Vettel, Fargo Police Department: “Anything that they can do to help maximize those penalties, to maximize that deterrent, certainly is best in the interest of law enforcement.”
The three offenders submitted proof that they attended the funeral and one even wrote a letter to the court describing how the experience made him examine his own choices.
Litke: “Having to be subject to something that is quite emotional was probably much more difficult but much more effective than just simply spending time in jail.”
One of the key points in this sentencing is the offenders were actually given a choice in their punishment.
We set out to see whether people think allowing offenders to choose their own sentence, is a good idea.
Ashley Hoeck, Fargo Resident: “I don't think that people who break the law should be given the benefit of a choice. I think that they should be handed the judgment that the judge and the jury think is right for them.”
Robert Hawk, Dilworth Resident: “If you're going to trade a couple days of jail time for something like that, I'd be for it. Absolutely, I think it's worthwhile. Sitting in jail thinking about it is one thing, but actually... You're talking about a drunk driving offense where somebody was killed.”
Allan Bakkerud, the offender who wrote to the court, said "The funeral made him realize how drunk driving could change lives in a split second."
He wrote "alcohol and driving don't mix."