One of the most common questions when our firm gets called about a DWI charge is, “How long is this going to take?”
In Wake County, the answer is FOREVER. Of course I’m not being literal, but the fact of the matter is, DWI’s in Raleigh take on average 9 months to 12 months to resolve. We have had some cases that have taken as long as three years to wind their way through the court system.
Why? Two primary reasons:
- Law Enforcement Officers charge an incredibly high number of DWI’s, even when it’s questionable that someone was actually appreciably impaired
- The Wake County’s District Attorney Office does not offer any plea deals whatsoever for DWIs
The result is a log jam of thousands of DWIs that must make their way through the court system amidst limited resources, i.e. blood analysis, courtrooms, and DAs.
Charging someone with a DWI who blew a 0.07 on the breathalyzer, was speeding but otherwise driving fine, and aced the field sobriety tests does not help the issue, yet it happens frequently.
The plea issue is a larger one. In other counties, if the DWI is minor, it’s a first time offense with a clean driving record, there’s a possibility of a reduction to a lesser charge. These cases are resolved in the first or second court setting, freeing up valuable resources to fight the cases that are actually egregious in nature. Because no pleas are offered, there’s no incentive not to take a case through to trial. Even if the facts of the case are bad, the client may as well have his day in court and exercise his right to a trial because the outcome is likely no worse than any plea deal. Meaning, most pleas in Wake County are to nothing worse that the worse case scenario upon being convicted in trial. The result: a large volume of the 3500 DWIs charged in Wake County in 2014 will head to trial, which will have an incredible tax on the resources of the court system and will take a significant amount of time.
And it will get worse in 2015 if changes to the plea policy are not made. With the advent of new DWI task forces, a 50% increase is expected – 7,000 DWIs a year (see this WRAL news story about the increase). Four DAs, two specially set aside courtrooms, and the use of other courtrooms as well will not resolve the problem.
These numbers make it look like we have a serious DWI problem in our county. Not to say that DWI isn’t an extremely serious issue, but the scope and severity has been overblown by the court system. Rather than charging more of these cases and prosecuting each as if they were a murder, the solution will be to move away from the numbers game. It’s not about how many DWIs an officer can charge in a shift and how many were tried or dismissed. It’s about evaluating each case, determining which are less serious and are appropriate for a reasonable plea, and then trying the ones where it’s actually warranted.