Sources: SBI probe, dismissed DWI charges may be linked
Posted July 25, 2008 3:51 p.m. EDT
Updated July 25, 2008 8:18 p.m. EDT
Smithfield, N.C. — A state investigation of the Johnston County court system might be linked to allegations that a former Johnston County prosecutor gave a defense attorney blank forms that allow for criminal cases to be dismissed, sources told WRAL Friday.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle confirmed she requested an investigation by the state Attorney General's Office and the State Bureau of Investigation, but she declined to comment on the nature of the case.
The SBI, the Attorney General's Office and Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell also declined to comment on the investigation.
Sources told WRAL that a former assistant district attorney has been accused of handing a stack of signed, blank dismissal forms to at least one defense attorney – essentially a stack of "Get Out of Jail Free" cards for criminal defendants.
SBI agents have interviewed some state Highway Patrol troopers who have had drunken-driving cases dismissed in Johnston County, authorities said.
Clayton Police Chief Glen Allen, who said he doesn't know the nature of the SBI investigation, said some of his officers reported what they considered suspicious DWI dismissals to the District Attorney's Office.
A WRAL investigation in May showed the dismissal rate for drunken-driving charges in Johnston County was twice the state average.
Forty-six percent of the driving while impaired charges filed in Johnston County in 2006, the latest year for which records are available, were dismissed, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Statewide, the dismissal rate for DWI charges is 21 percent. In neighboring Wake County, the dismissal rate is 20 percent.
When acquittals and pleas to reduced charges are factored in, the actual DWI conviction rate in Johnston County is about 27 percent, state records show.
Chief District Judge Andy Corbett said in May that defense attorneys "shop" for judges by trying to get on court calendars when judges they consider more lenient will be presiding in Johnston, or they seek dates when officers might not make it to court. He called for better communication between prosecutors, officers and judges to limit the dropped cases.
Johnston County has scheduled a special DWI court in October to better handle drunken-driving cases.