Local News

DWI cases get clogged in courtrooms

Posted February 16, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Wake County's judges and prosecutors say that driving while impaired charges can linger for too long in the court system, making successful prosecution difficult.

On Monday afternoon, Judge James Fullwood's courtroom provided an illustration: His docket contained 175 traffic cases, many for serious drunken-driving charges. And he had three hours to get through them.

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out (that) with 175 cases in 180 minutes, that leaves you about one minute per case," Chief District Judge Robert Rader said. "It's just not possible."

Crowded courtrooms dog DWI cases Crowded courtrooms dog DWI cases

Many cases from those crowded courtrooms get rescheduled, adding more strain to an already crowded court docket, Rader said. On Monday, Fullwood saw one person whose case dated from 2007.

While sometimes the court can complete two or three DWI trials a day, on average, it takes seven months to process a DWI case.

"It makes the cases get older, and as they get older, they're more difficult to process," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. "They're more difficult to prosecute. Sometimes, we lose cases because of the age." It is harder, officials say, to schedule police officers, who are usually the only witness to the offense.

In the past fiscal year, Wake County courtrooms saw over 4,000 DWI cases, more than Mecklenberg County. Judges had to leave 269 of them unheard.

"In a perfect world, you open more courtrooms with more judges. But the problem is, we don't have them," Rader said.

Wake has 6.72 judges fewer than needed for its caseload, according to studies by the National Center for State Courts.

The General Assembly approved two more judges for Wake County, but Gov. Bev Perdue has not yet appointed them. The Governor's Highway Safety Program gave a grant to open one courtroom dedicated to hearing DWI cases.

In 2008, the district attorney's office and judges worked with Raleigh police to better schedule officers' court time.

Judicial officials expect the recession will create more caseload problems. During an economic downturn, budgets typically decrease, while the number of cases goes up.

Additionally, population growth will likely keep pressure on DWI courts.

"Folks are trying to help us address the problem, but the growth in this area just overwhelms us sometimes," Willoughby said.


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  • Dont playa hate- congratulate Feb 18, 2009

    Just a suggestion...what about running a night/evening court, or having court on Sat? Why not have a system of ticket payment over the internet, like making a purchase? I agree with starting court at 8am and going a full day till 5pm, with an hour lunch. I also agree with putting more power in Judges hands and not attorneys. Many attys. continue cases until they get paid. One of the "tricks" is to continue the case until the officer is not in court, then scream for a trial. Many times the Judge will dismiss the case if the officer is not there, though his absence is of no fault of the officer ie. death in family, sickness, training, etc. Why can't we, as citizens, take the "WHY CAN'T WE" approach to this problem? WHY CAN'T WE have night/ evening court or Sat. court?? Oh my goodness!!..could you imagine the State actually fixing a problem or using common sense? WHY CAN'T WE????????????

  • Weaker Pelosi Feb 18, 2009

    Maybe .08 is too low. Two beers and u r considered drunk.

  • mpheels Feb 17, 2009

    The illegal immigrant question is valid considering the wrecks making the news over the past year, but I honestly don't think the courts are getting bogged down with DUIs from illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants likely can't afford an attorney, and are guaranteed a court appointed one. As other have pointed out, the slow down in court is caused in large part by continuances and other slick legal maneuvers from good (or at least decent) lawyers - probably not the ones defending illegals.

  • wrx44 Feb 17, 2009

    My question is not about being nice or mean...it is about our system being overloaded and our citizens being put in danger.

  • ConcernedNCC Feb 17, 2009

    They could do like I've heard some places do for scheduling officers in court. In those, the officers are assigned to a certain day of the month that they are to be available for court. It is an off-duty day. All cases that the officer is the arresting officer are assigned to that day. That aught to help judges decide on a schedule for the trial.

  • foxyladync Feb 17, 2009

    "Wonder how many of the DUIs on average are illegal immigrants?..." wrx44

    "wrx44 - you don't sound like a nice person". Gork

    I do not think the question posed by wrx44 labels him or her as a bad person. It is a very valid question considering it is a prevalent problem.

  • Just the facts mam Feb 16, 2009

    I hate to say this, but our justice system is a joke!!!

  • Common Sense Man Feb 16, 2009

    And by the way, I decreased my DWIs by about 40% this past year b/c of the hassle in the court system. Defense attorneys take a solid case to trial and the judges give them the same thing they would have received if they would have plead. I just stopped giving them more clients.

  • kittiboo Feb 16, 2009

    Wait! Maybe people could just stop breaking the law!!! Wouldn't THAT be fantastic? But, no. People gotta drink and drive (among other things) and really, they bring this upon themselves. Just sad.

  • Common Sense Man Feb 16, 2009

    "We all know that county and state officials ask the officers to write more tickets as a way to raise more funds to cover the growing deficit and budget shortfalls. This is where the "quota" theory comes in."

    That's funny, I've worked for 4 different agencies over a long period of time and nobody has ever mentioned writing more tickets. Some theory.........