Local News

Cumberland DA Speaks Out About County's Low DWI Conviction Rate

Posted November 19, 2003 5:57 a.m. EST

— Ed Grannis, who has been Cumberland County's district attorney since 1975, said he is frustrated and embarrassed that 7 in 10 suspected drunk drivers are not convicted in the county, but he calls it a long-standing problem with no easy explanation.

"There are different cultures in every community about what's considered fair play and what's considered not and Cumberland plays by a hard set of rules," he said.

Grannis said it is a well-known defense attorney tactic to shop for judges on DWI cases.

"It all comes down to who the judge is," he said.

When police officers miss court, those lawyers are ready to pounce.

"There will be a day more than likely when that officer can't be there. And on that day, they will try to have the charge dismissed and see if they can get the judge to deny the state's motion to continue the case," Grannis said.

The records back Grannis' claims. Many drunken driving cases get dismissed when troopers are not in court because they are in school or serving overseas. Grannis said that another problem is that the system rewards suspected drunken drivers who disappear. One particular DWI case from 1991 was thrown out just weeks ago, because after 12 years the trooper no longer had notes.

"If a defendant can avoid coming to court for about a year, there's a tremendous opportunity for that charge to be dismissed," he said.

While frustrated by Cumberland's low DWI conviction rate, Grannis contends there is no conspiracy of backroom deals. He said there is a constant need to improve the system.

"Very few of us will be a victim of homicide. A lot of us could be a victim of a drunk driver if you're out driving after 9 at night, so it is a matter of great concern," he said.

The Highway Patrol is now planning a meeting with Grannis. They all hope to improve communication, so fewer cases get dismissed because troopers do not show up in court.