More funding needed for DAs, courts

Published 8:54 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

By Pamela Morton
Morton of Montgomery is state victims services coordinator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Alabama.

Since our inception, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has had a special bond with law enforcement. For good reason: We both have as our core mission protecting the public and saving lives.

As our name indicates, MADD’s focus is preventing drunk driving and saving families from the pain, heartache and grief from driving-under-the-influence crashes. We work directly with state troopers, sheriffs and police departments to assist victims and their families, to discourage drinking and driving, and encourage responsible public policies that reduce the occurrences of DUI crashes.

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MADD Alabama also has developed a special bond with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and its “Under Age, Under Arrest” initiative. For the past four years, MADD mothers and other volunteers who have lost loved ones to drunk driving have traveled the state with the “Under Age, Under Arrest” team to share with students the dangers of underage and binge drinking and the terrible toll they take on families.

There is another partner we count as key in the fight against drunk driving. That is our court system, including the local prosecutors who work hard to bring justice to victims of drunk driving.

As you know, Alabama faces very serious challenges with its General Fund. Across the state, district attorneys and their staffs — the people whose job is to prosecute and hold accountable those who drink and drive — are finding it more difficult to do their work because they simply do not have sufficient funding.

That is why I, on behalf of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Alabama, support badly-needed additional funding, particularly for our district attorneys and courts, to more adequately protect the public.  Currently, the state is considering a modest five-cent increase in alcohol revenues, all of which would be earmarked to protect the public.

As victims services coordinator for MADD Alabama, I work regularly with district attorneys and judges. Our involvement in a drunk-driving case begins immediately after a crash.  We meet with victims and their families — we call them “victim’s survivors” — to comfort and support them as they go through what often is a difficult, emotionally draining legal process. We are with them at trial, at sentencing and at parole hearings.

Perhaps one of the lesser-known roles MADD volunteers play is speaking directly to drunk-driving offenders, hopefully before their actions claim lives. Working with judges and prosecutors, MADD victim survivors speak at victims impact panels for which DUI offenders are required by courts to attend.

They tell their stories: like that of a star college basketball player whose life was cut short by an intoxicated driver traveling on the wrong side of the road; a wife who lost her husband and nearly her life and the life of her son when a speeding drunk driver crashed into their vehicle; and a mother who wakes up every day crying for the son she see will never see again.

These “victim’s survivors” live with pain every day. They volunteer to help prevent other parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts from having to experience the same pain.

Their work is difficult. So, too, is the work of our prosecutors. Many struggle to meet payroll. Others don’t have the money needed to pay for experts or for witnesses to travel to ensure that justice is served.

Alcohol isn’t just a problem on our roads. It plays a major role in many other crimes.

For example, alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, 37 percent of the nearly 2 million convicted offenders in prison today report they were drinking at the time of their arrest.

The reality is alcohol is more associated with violent crimes — murder, rape assault, child and spousal abuse, etc. — than any illegal drug.

That’s why the measure to raise additional funds for our district attorneys and the court system through liquor revenue is so critical.

Already, two counties benefit from similar funding measures thanks to local bills passed in recent years. Several other counties are pushing measures to do the same.

It makes sense for this funding to be available for all district attorneys. The best and surest way to make that happen is for the ABC Board to support additional funding that goes to our law enforcement community. All of the funds raised will go to DAs and the courts.

On behalf of MADD Alabama and our supporters, and for the cause of justice, I urge the board to take this small step to ensure our prosecutors have the resources they need.