WRAL Investigates

State DWI law allows driving on pending charges

Posted January 26, 2010
Updated January 27, 2010

— According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, North Carolina has the fifth-most drunken-driving fatalities of any state in the nation.

Many of those drivers are repeat offenders, yet the state's legal system cannot keep those with pending charges off the road.

There are legal consequences of drunken-driving convictions, but there is no way to keep those who are arrested and awaiting trial off the road.

State DWI law allows driving on pending charges State DWI law allows driving on pending charges

Michael Owen Eason's case is one example.

Eason, 39, of Cary, was convicted in February 2009 after registering a .15 blood alcohol concentration during an August 2008 arrest.

Two months later, a Raleigh police officer charged him with DWI after witnessing him crossing the center line of Brooks Avenue. Eason refused an alcohol breath test and his license was revoked.

In July, a Raleigh police officer noticed Eason swerving on South Dawson Street. He was arrested, and his license was revoked again.

In December, Eason was charged with a third DWI after a collision on Ashe Avenue. Witnesses reported Eason asleep at the wheel with a strong odor of alcohol.

Despite the conviction and arrests, Eason continues to drive legally. Following each DWI arrest, the magistrate increased Eason's bond, but state law allows little else.

"It's frustrating to us to see someone come back for the second, third or fourth arrest for what we view as a very dangerous offense," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. "I'm sure the public is frustrated about it. They should be."

By law, the magistrate has very little authority to keep an accused drunken driver off the road. He or she is entitled to bond. Plus, the statute focuses on convictions, not pending cases.

"It's not specifically listed in the statute that they're to consider the dangerousness to the community," Willoughby said. "That, I think, is a shortcoming."

Willoughby believes the law should change so that someone considered a danger could be automatically detained on pending DWI cases.

"Here's a dangerous situation," Willoughby said. "The courts need to address it quickly."

Defense Attorney Whit Powell, who isn't involved in the Eason case, agrees that pending arrests should be considered to force faster judgments.

"You watch those cases and make sure that a person doesn't just rack up cases without ever going to court," Powell said.

He argues, however, that holding suspects without with a conviction crosses the line.

"Don't forget the Constitution," he said. "A man or a woman is innocent until proven guilty."

Craig Lloyd, executive director of North Carolina's MADD chapter, believes it is only matter of time before repeat offenders hurt someone. He suggests impounding vehicles or requiring an ignition interlock system after multiple arrests.

"When they've got the ability to get behind the wheel, they're going to do it whether they have their license revoked," he said.

Neither Eason nor his attorney could be reached for comment. He has court appearances for two of the three cases scheduled for Wednesday and Friday.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • kindaas Jan 29, 2010

    There are several constitutional issues @ work here.
    #1 Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. So blowing a .08 does not automatically make you guilty.

    This IMO also calls into question whether or not it's constitutional to revoked someone's drivers license upon being charged with a DWI.
    According to the constitution you cannot punish an innocent person, so if you are presumed innocent until you are found guilty why are you punished before your trial?
    Also consider this... If you are charged with a DWI and subsequently found not-guilty or the charges are dismissed the 30 day revocation remains on your driving record just as if you were convicted.

    #2 Your right against self incrimination. That's why everyone has the right to refuse a breathalyzer.

    DWI is an 11 Billion dollar a year business for our countries court systems. It's a real money maker for them hence it's highly politicized. All the statistics put out by MADD and NHSTA are HIGHLY skewed.

  • tarheelfan41 Jan 28, 2010

    EVERYONE is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Punish defendants as harsh as you would like ONCE THEY ARE PROVEN GUILTY, but we should not assess penalties BEFORE guilt is proven. I do not want drunk drivers on the road anymore than the next person, I have kids too, but we should not impose penalties until they have their day in court. Slippery slop we are going down.

  • lorivalentine1 Jan 27, 2010

    I am all for letting him drive while waiting for trial.. However, he should have a breathalizer in his car as any one should who is caught driving while impaired (first offense or not). He can get where he needs to and we can all be safer while he is waiting for his fair day in court!

  • dws Jan 27, 2010

    "People have rights, including a right to trial"

    true, but the system is being worked to the advantage of the abusers and (some) less than reputable lawyers, as we saw earlier this week in Johnston County....

    there needs to be a swift due process to get the abusers off the road

  • wildcat Jan 27, 2010

    They never see it, until its their love one. That will be too late then.

  • Timbo Jan 27, 2010

    "Folks, once you fail the breathalyzer, that should prove you guilty. There should be no trial. You should do jail time. "

    You are not very bright, are you? People have rights, including a right to trial. And for your information, there are lots of reasons why a breathalyzer will give false readings.

    Go preach somewhere else.

  • jbco Jan 27, 2010

    2beachy4u I completely agree. No one can claim they do not know the dangers and consequences of driving while impaired. Anyone who chooses to drink to the point of legal impairment and get behind the wheel deserves to lose their license and suffer any penalties given to them by the court.

    It is easy to post on message boards. People who feel strongly should speak to your representative about the current DWI laws. Become informed about the law and the procedures. Go and watch a session of court on your day off of work. Make your voice heard outside of this website and fight for a change. Support advanced technology implementation (advanced alcohol detection devices in cars of offenders, better trained LEOs.) The most tragic thing of all is seeing someone hurt or killed in such a preventable event as a DWI wreck.

  • wildcat Jan 27, 2010

    A crazy law is the reason why so many are getting killed by drunk drivers.

  • 2beachy4u Jan 27, 2010

    jbco, in the wreck that I was in, no one would admit to who was driving so all 3 in the car received a DWI. Eventually the truth came out but it is too easy for an attorney to get someone out of a DWI. It is not our fault you were drinking and driving and got busted. If you loose your job, oh well! If you loose your license, oh well! Too many innocent people die from this. Maybe the government should get off of the Tobacco topic and jump on this!

  • 2beachy4u Jan 27, 2010

    jbco, If someone refuses the breathalyzer, then that shows their guilt if you ask me. If they don't have anything to hide, then blow! As far as an accident goes, then the hospital should issue a blood test and let that be the judge. Too many people make excuses for drinking and driving and there is no excuse. DON'T DO IT!