Local News

New law gets tougher on drunk drivers

Posted November 30, 2012
Updated December 1, 2012

— Starting Saturday, judges will have the option of longer prison sentences for those convicted in felony drunk driving wrecks in North Carolina. 

The current maximum penalty under the law is 3 ½ years in prison.

Most drivers who cause a death while drunk are charged with felony death by vehicle. In rare cases, North Carolina district attorneys will charge them with second-degree murder. However, those cases can be difficult to prove because prosecutors need to show an aggravating circumstance, such as a prior drunken driving charge, and prove malice to a jury, which can be a tough sell.

"The new law will add longer jail sentences to those persons convicted of felony death by vehicle or impaired driving homicides," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. 

Judges also have the option of including higher fines. 

dwi New DWI law means tougher penalties

The new law comes too late for families like the parents of 20-year-old Elena Shapiro, who was killed in a drunk driving crash in Raleigh in 2009. Dr. Raymond Cook was convicted in the crash and given a 36- to 54-month prison sentence at Craven Correctional Institution in Vanceboro. 

Hermelindo Castro was given the maximum penalty after being convicted of killing Kristie Lee, 37, in a drunk driving crash in 2010. 

Under the new law, both men could have faced longer sentences. 

Lawmakers hope the new law will reduce the number of families coping with the death of a loved one due to a drunk driver.

"These cases are tragedies, but I think the law reflects society's continued disillusionment with people driving drunk and killing people," Willoughby said. 

4 Comments

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  • baldy1 Dec 4, 12:08 p.m.

    Lift all laws on drunk driving, give everyone a bottle of booze and a set of keys and let them get rid of each other!!!!! Why! Look at WRAL home page at the night life photos, everyone is holding bottles, glass eyed, looking stupid for all ( youth, teens and adults) to see and say this is ok to do because they are doing it. Makes me sick to see finger pointing when most all of ya are probably guilty of the problem the start with. And no I have never taken a drink or smoked dope to have fun in my 62 years. Must be a sad life to have to be high to have fun!!!

  • Rebelyell55 Dec 3, 10:18 a.m.

    For some of the victims, this may appear to be a good law. But, if someone is going to drink and drive, knowing if they kill someone they'll get prison time, adding two or three more years won't stop em. I seriously doubt that those who would do this would even know the law existed. I agree we need stronger punishment for those driving without license and insurance. There a very good reason these folks don't have a license to drive.

  • whatelseisnew Dec 3, 8:47 a.m.

    How about getting tougher on teenagers that typically run in excess of 100 mph and also typically kill off several other teens. How about getting tougher on illegals that drive without insurance and licenses.

  • miseem Dec 3, 8:02 a.m.

    Great reporting. Lots of talk, very little fact. You report what the current (prior to Dec. 1) penalty is. You never say what it's going to increase to. As if anyone would want to know that anyway, right?