DWI dismissals in Johnston Co - an accident waiting to happen here?

How often do we read about fatal accidents attributed to drunken drivers, only to find out that the drivers were repeat offenders? I once did jury duty on a DWI case and was surprised at the level of tolerance among some jurors - "Haven't we all been driving under the influence?" "How will this person carry on with life without a car?"

The N&O's running a story about Johnston Co DWI records being sealed while the state investigates the high rate of DWI dismissals by Johnston Co prosecutors. The statewide rate for voluntary dismissal of DWI charges by prosecutors is 14 percent. The rate in Johnston Co was 43 percent. The state Attorney General requested the records be sealed while the irregularity is being investigated. A UNC School of Govt professor, David Lawrence, noted that state law doesn't provide for such withholding of public info. Today's N&O editorial points out that the paper played a role in bringing the irregularity to light.

Beyond the public records access question, the story also makes me wonder what is the oversight mechanism for the prosecution of whatever the police and other sources bring before the Orange Co prosecutor? There's always a judgment about strength of evidence I imagine, but there must be records of all of these decisions, right? Who in Orange Co has authority to ensure that disparaties like Johnston Co are addressed before they become headlines - because of the irregularity itself or because of a tragic "accident"?





Though we may not agree on which circumstances to consider I think that we can all agree that every situation needs to be considered individually. Having said that why do we not assign a charge to the act alone and then consider the extenuating circumstances?

What I am saying is this: for example make public drinking legal. Then, when someone becomes disorderly charge them with being drunk and disorderly. Until then let them drink. Maybe many of us would enjoy sitting in the park with a glass of wine.

I agree that drunk driving is an epidemic. But let's not blame the drink. Let's consider what happened:

Someone gets behind the wheel (sober OR drunk). They run off of the road. (in other words they did not control their 2-ton missile).

If that is all that happens charge them with wreckless driving. If they kill someone charge them with murder. Now present the FACTS to a jury of their peers.

Jamie -

 Thanks for your comment. If you think of drunk driving as a public health issue - similar to infections spread by drinking water, for example - then one big step in dealing with an epidemic is to control the agent: in this case alcohol. I guess I don't see it as a clear-cut civil liberties issue. Seems if public drinking were made legal, then the police force would have to be expanded, else the odds of being caught would go way down. As the father of a 15 year old with a learner's permit, I would like to think that a prosecutor emphasizes prevention of accidents over pursuit of a murderer. A high rate of DWI dismissals would indicate that a prosecutor's priority is the latter. I hope I would feel the same way if it were my daughter who was dragged in for DWI.

Anyway...I was just curious how the county ensures that when someone is caught DWI, there is reasonable action taken for public safety. That is, what Orange Co official keeps tabs on DWI dismissals?

Hi David,

I do think of drunk driving as a public health issue. But unlike contaminated water the alcohol itself is harmless. So is the vehicle involved in the accident for that matter. There is only one person behind the wheel. When the car moves forward, turns, or backs up no one else is accountable except the driver. The individual must make the decision to drink and then drive before they can be in a drunk driving accident. I am not saying that we should let anyone drink alcohol freely. It is a drug that needs to be respected. What I am saying is that in a country were one can pour coffee on themselves and win a lawsuit as a result we need to start holding the individual, in this case the offender, accountable.

I disagree with you regarding the need to increase the number of police officers. I realize that I am pretty much alone in my thinking but here's my logic. Allow drinking and driving. [Everyone I know who does it gets home safely. What good are our current?] Then, when my dad for example, who has not touched a drink in years plows into a building unharmed. Put him in front of a judge and charge him for drunk driving. At which point the law would jail for life.

I understanding that I am alienating many people with my intolerant point of view. I would like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Some people can handle their liquor better then others. Some people don't drink at all. I personally wittiness some people with sober driving skills so horrendous I cannot believe they have not murdered anyone yet.

Of course someone at some time is going to get hit by a car. I pray it is not anyone you or I know. Our current laws do not bring that individual back to life. Our current laws also allow every murderer(as best as I know) to get back behind the wheel at some point and do it again. And some of them do murder again. So in my opinion these laws fail us. If my taxes are going to go towards their punishment I vote to move them aside and concentrate on those people who are responsible enough to allow our children play outside and walk to school unharmed.

Funny, I have very strong feelings against those who drive drunk, and first degree murder is what I support for those who kill others while driving drunk. Yet I have often had drinks at friend's or relative's house and driven home, afterwords. In college, and in my young adult days here in Chapel Hill, I drove home unable to even remember driving home. I drove home from a Christmas Party at Dick Zaffron's house in the late 60's (Alex a child), fifteen miles down Mt Carmel Church Road, and my father-in-law had to carry me from our car to our house.

So now I'm qualified to promote life in prison for the fool who does what I did but kills someone. That I have never been drunk since that Xmas night has purified me and fabricated my moral crown. Perhaps John Edwards can try this moral absolution, in a few years. Refreshing.

I think the Johnston County legal establishment is hiding a judge, I'd bet on it. We give criminals and drunk drivers ten chances; then some innocent gets wasted and the community discovers the outrage thing, to quote pappy Bush. Our justice system is overloaded and understaffed, so prodded by a pesky defense lawyer the criminal/drunk walks out with a smile or a slight red mark on the wrist. And yes, when the miscreant finally offs someone, as noted above, the DA has to do some major shuffling to cover the fallout, while the defense lawyer prays for another scandal to divert the press and studies the cookbook for trial delay tactics and plea deals.

The threat of legal and insurance punishment has convinced me. I do not have more than two drinks if I am driving, but I have no idea what level you blow with two gin and tonics at happy hour. And folks, I have to  have my car to drive to my medical appointments and church meetings. Give me another chance...........




Roscoe - your remark about "what level you blow with two gin and tonics" gave me an idea - I think I'll have a couple of stiff drinks and have the wife drive me over to the police station to see what my level is. I'll let you know if the CHPD will offer this service.

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