WRAL Investigates: NC restricted licenses not always enforced
Posted June 27, 2013
Updated June 28, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — On any given day, about 7,000 convicted drunken drivers are on North Carolina roads with a restricted license, meaning they can only drive during certain times of the day and for certain reasons. The WRAL Investigates team found that those restrictions may not be worth the paper they’re written on.
Of the 216 suspected violations involving restricted licenses brought before judges in North Carolina last year, 142 – or nearly 66 percent – were dismissed in court, according to the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.
The WRAL Investigates team found that the law defining restricted license terms is vague and not always enforced.
Like many of the state’s convicted DWI offenders, Wesley Englebreth has a restricted driver's license, which allows him to drive from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for specific reasons, such as work, education, medical care, community service and household maintenance. Court records show he can drive as late as 11 p.m. for a restaurant job, but the restaurant says he hasn't worked there in months.
Barry Howell hired a private investigator to follow Englebreth, who is dating his ex-wife. He did so after learning that Englebreth was driving around his children.
“What do my children have to do with his employment or maintenance of his household? Nothing," Howell said. “I don’t want him driving my children ... I’m horrified at what could happen."
Howell says he supplied authorities with video footage, shot by his private investigator, showing Englebreth's car at a Raleigh restaurant and strip club as late as 11 p.m., in apparent violation of restricted license laws.
The WRAL Investigates team witnessed Englebreth driving Howell's children from a pool to a restaurant earlier this month. When questioned, Englebreth said he was driving the children as part of his household maintenance duties. He declined to comment further. The children's mother – Howell's ex-wife – said she was paying Englebreth to baby-sit her children that day.
Raleigh defense attorney Roger Smith Jr. says Englebreth’s explanation could hold up in court, even though baby-sitting is not listed as a job on his court papers.
"It's difficult to define things sometimes," Smith said. "I certainly get questions from clients all the time on, 'What is household maintenance?' And certainly, by its nature, it is very broad. It covers going to the grocery store, going to the hardware store."
Given that Englebreth had two previous DWIs – in 1999 and 2011 – and that North Carolina has gradually toughened its DWI laws, Howell said he was surprised that police, a probation officer and the Wake County District Attorney’s Office didn't pursue a case when he brought them video footage of Englebreth.
"(I was told) that it was my responsibility the next time we saw this individual driving to call law enforcement," Howell said.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby says law enforcement doesn't have enough resources to track down every driver with license restrictions.
"It's a difficult thing. I encourage (people like Howell) to report to police so police will have info and may be able to use it," Willoughby said. "I think this stuff is much better suited for domestic court in deciding custody and support than criminal court."
Englebreth was cited in Johnston County at a daytime license checkpoint on April 9 for having a revoked license, because he didn't have his restricted license paperwork with him. A judge later dismissed the case when he went to court on May 10 and showed his paperwork, according to court records.
The WRAL Investigates team found that offenders who did get in trouble for violating driving privileges were usually pulled over for something else.
John Duke was convicted of violating his driving privileges in Alamance County, but that was after prosecutors dropped open container and drug paraphernalia charges that were filed against him last July. Sandra Allen, of Clayton, could lose her privileges after a second DWI charge in Johnston County this past February. It's a violation of limited driving privileges to drink alcohol and get behind the wheel. Her case is pending.
Howell says he thinks the driving restrictions should be tougher. Otherwise, "it's verbiage with no teeth, no monitoring, no enforcement," he said.
The WRAL Investigates team contacted Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit organization. MADD leaders say one possible solution is installing ignition devices that control when a DWI offender starts his or her car. In Minnesota and Ohio, DWI offenders are issued special license plates.