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Officials Look For Answers To Explain Cumberland's Low DWI Conviction Rate

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CUMBERLAND COUNTY, N.C. — After a WRAL investigation into a series of discrepancies in the rate of drunken driving convictions in Cumberland County. Officials involved with law enforcement are looking for answers.

According to the state Highway Patrol, statewide driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) arrests resulted in convictions 65 percent of the time. In Wake and Durham counties, that number is more than 70 percent, but in Cumberland County, that number falls to just 25 percent.

Cumberland County Chief District Court Judge Elizabeth Keever said she is not proud of the message her county's drunken driving conviction rate sends to the public.

"Well, I certainly am concerned that it's a low rate in the sense that a higher percentage of people are driving drunk than are convicted," she said.

The District Attorney's office tracks DWI cases that get dismissed. Recent records show a high number of those cases are thrown out because highway patrol troopers and local police officers do not show up in court. In addition, due to staff turnover, many members of law enforcement no longer work there.

"If officers were in court every time, that wouldn't happen," Keever said.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Everett Clendenin said those records do not make sense to him.

"Our troopers don't take going to court lightly," he said. "That's something we take very seriously. It's a very important part of this whole process."

Clendenin said the Highway Patrol actually has very little turnover, yet only 1 in 4 of their DWI arrests in Cumberland County result in convictions.

"It's important that we show up in court that we have a sergeant assigned to the court that regulates our court attendance and also it's our policy," said Fayetteville Police Sgt. Anthony Kelly.

Kelly said his colleagues also make it a priority to defend their DWI arrests.

Some critics blame Cumberland's low DWI conviction rate on the heavy military presence. Troop deployments can lead to years of court scheduling delays for defendants and police officers.

On Wednesday, WRAL will take a closer look at the dismissal records and efforts to try and improve Cumberland County's drunken driving conviction rate.