DWI court opens in Johnston County
Posted October 8, 2008
Smithfield, N.C. — A special court that handles only DWI cases opened this week in Johnston County with a goal of clearing a massive backlog of cases and to get more convictions.
Through a grant from the Governor's Highway Safety Program, Johnston County is holding a special DWI session three days each week to help clear hundreds of backlogged DWI cases from 2006 and 2007 by the end of the year.
It will also resolve new cases within 90 days.
A WRAL News investigation in May found 46 percent of driving while impaired charges filed in Johnston County in 2006 were dismissed, compared with the statewide dismissal rate of 21 percent.
Part of the problem in the past with dismissals, according to District Attorney Susan Doyle, is that cases have been delayed while defense attorneys "shop" for judges by trying to get on court calendars when judges they consider more lenient will be presiding.
Other reasons for such a high dismissal rate have to do with officers not showing up for court because of legitimate excuses for missing a hearing – training, vacation, medical reasons.
"We felt like the only way that we could to this and address the problems we've had with driving while impaired cases is to devote more resources to prosecution of these offenses," Doyle said.
Some of the cases coming up now in DWI court have been continued more than a dozen times.
And since beginning this week, all five of the DWI cases heard have resulted in convictions. Four orders for arrest were also issued for people who did not appear.
"We feel like it's going to be a win-win for both law enforcement and for the defendant," said Lt. Jeff Caldwell with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office.
He thinks faster turnaround time in court will help make roads safer.
"I feel that it sends the message that if you're going to drive drunk in Johnston County, law enforcement is going to find you, and the courts are ready to deal with you," Caldwell said.