WRAL Investigates

Lawmaker pushes for speedier DWI trials

Posted February 2, 2010 5:24 p.m. EST
Updated February 2, 2010 6:55 p.m. EST

— Citing the case of a Cary man charged with repeated drunken driving offenses before any went to court, a Wake County lawmaker said Tuesday that driving while impaired cases need to go to trial faster.

Michael Owen Eason, 39, was arrested three times from April to December last year, but none of his cases was resolved until last week.

A judge sentenced him last Wednesday to 30 days in jail in connection with a July 2009 DWI case. Two days later, Eason was sentenced to two years in prison as a habitual offender for a December DWI case that included a collision on Ashe Avenue in Raleigh.

His license had already been revoked following an August 2008 arrest and subsequent conviction.

Eason's third DWI case was supposed to be heard Tuesday but was continued to next month.

North Carolina law allows court officials to consider only convictions when making judgments in cases.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has said the law should be changed to allow pending DWI charges to be a factor so that someone could automatically be detained if he or she is considered a threat to the public.

Eason's attorney, John McWilliam, said that plan goes too far.

"Changing the law to load up more of what could be construed as punishment on a person prior to being convicted (means) the state runs into it being looked at as double jeopardy," McWilliam said.

State lawmakers in recent years have tightened up the system with longer DWI sentences and more restrictions on offenders. If a driver refuses a Breathalyzer test, for example, a law enforcement officer can now get a warrant for a blood test.

House Minority Leader Paul Stam said it's time to look at ways to bring DWI cases to trial more quickly.

"The real issue is not bond. The real issue is get them tried," Said Stam, R-Wake. "Do it quickly. That's the important thing to the criminal justice system is bringing people to trial to face the music quickly."

He said he plans to meet with Willoughby to discuss ways to speed up prosecutions.