Local News

Increase in DWI cases create new challenges for Wake courts

Posted January 13, 2015 7:43 p.m. EST
Updated January 13, 2015 8:52 p.m. EST

— Federal grants are helping Wake County law enforcement officers get drunken drivers off the street and into the courtroom, but prosecutors say the effort is adding cases on top of already overwhelming caseloads.

For the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the number of driving while impaired cases in the county is expected to reach 7,000, or about a 50 percent increase over the previous year.

"Right now, all of these cases still have to go through the same eye of the needle," Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Tuesday. "That's tough pushing through an additional 2,000-plus DWIs."

Freeman says courtrooms are packed with DWI cases. In May, two courtrooms were assigned to handle only DWIs, and this month, she assigned an additional prosecutor to work solely on the cases, bringing the total number to four.

"These cases are important. We want to make sure they get the attention they need and that they're handled appropriately," Freeman said.

District Judge Ned Mangum, who was interim district attorney for eight months last year, has concerns about the court resources DWI cases require.

"This court system can handle 20,000 to 50,000 speeding tickets faster than it can handle 2,000 impaired driving cases, because they're so complex and take time," Mangum said.

Current laws give defendants no incentive to plead guilty. Some defense attorneys believe changes to DWI laws that would allow plea bargains would decrease the caseload significantly.

"That's why you're seeing a volume of DWI cases build up without the ability of the state to resolve them any other way than by trying them," attorney Bill Young said.

Changing the law would be up to the General Assembly.

Freeman says she is not in favor of changing DWI laws. She would like to see lawmakers allocate more funding for prosecutors and judges.

"We want to avoid a backlog in these cases, if at all possible," she said.