Johnston County revives special court to clear DWI cases
Posted June 9, 2015
Smithfield, N.C. — In Johnston County Tuesday, all the cases in a single courtroom were for those accused of driving while impaired. The weekly DWI court resumed in May at the behest of District Attorney Susan Doyle after a three-year hiatus.
Doyle, recognizing the more than 1,400 open DWI cases, some of them more than five years old, backlogged in the county, asked Chief District Court Judge Jackie Lee to re-open the special court. Lee solicited funding from the Administrative Office of the Courts to run a weekly court and pay for retired Chief District Court Judge Andy Corbett Jr. to preside over it.
With the extra help, the county has managed to cut the number of pending cases from 1,402 on Jan. 1 to 1,073. The number of pending cases older than five years dropped from 54 on Jan. 1 to eight.
"Our newly opened DWI court is addressing the oldest cases first," Doyle said. "We are pulling those cases from the regular court and addressing those in our DWI court now."
It is especially important to address the backlog, Doyle said, because as time passes, they become harder to prosecute. "That's because details get fuzzy, memories fade, witnesses may be difficult to locate. Officers may go on to other areas of employment," she said.
Doyle said she was pleased to see so much progress being made.
"We are very fortunate we were able to reopen this court and devote the time and attention that these cases take," she said.
"These are very serious cases. They are very complicated cases to try and it takes a lot of time, resources and energy from my office to be able to pull these cases together and try them."
Johnston County's first iteration of DWI court was funded by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which funds the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. That ended in 2012, when national and state leaders decided that money would be better used for treatment and rehabilitation of repeat offenders.