How to Fix DWI’s in Wake County

Wake County associated law enforcement officers charge and exorbitant number of DWIs each year. Most law and order folks are probably thinking, “Good, we don’t need drunks on the road.” But if you are one of the many that have been charged, you might be thinking, “The way these things are handled is not fair.” Both would be right.

First, Wake County prosecutors are notoriously strict on DWIs. Not matter how low the blow, the fact that it’s a first time offender, or the mitigating factors of the case, each DWI is treated the same. There’s no leniency or plea deal, no matter what the circumstance. What this does is clogs the court system by pushing low grade DWI’s to trial, when they should be resolved by some sort of a plea to something other than a DWI. It is not uncommon for our Raleigh DWI law firm to get a call from someone who blew a 0.07, below the legal limit, and still get charged with a DWI. Why should that case be prosecuted as strongly as someone who blew a .27 and caused an accident with injuries? It makes no sense.

Second, parts of Wake County have grant money to form task forces specifically for the purpose of charging people with DWIs. Let’s be clear: the purpose of these task forces is not to keep people safe, but rather to charge as many people as possible. It’s like a game. Glenwood South and Wade Avenue is probably the largest producer of DWI arrests, thanks to a task force.

Over the past few years, Mecklenberg County has been trying a different model with some success. The police chief there has created a program called Operation Safe Streets where officers specifically look for people leaving bars that may be too impaired to drive. However, rather than salivating at the sight and arresting for DWI, the officers proactively approach the person and ask if they’re ok to drive. If not, they help them get a cab. If the individual can’t afford a cab, the officer provides a voucher to ensure a safe ride home. The cost of the voucher is minuscule in comparison to the cost of prosecuting a DWI, or the cost to an accident.

This program is the definition of what officers should be doing for DWI enforcement – being proactive to keep people safe, but with the ability to arrest if and when necessary, rather than the first point of defense being the arrest. I can’t even count the number of times where a client has said that they were followed out of a bar by an officer or that an officer was waiting in the parking lot and once someone had driven 10 feet, they were pulled over. Simply being in a bar does not provide probable cause or reasonable suspicion for a DWI investigation, yet some Wake County Officers treat it that way. Implementing a program such as Mecklenberg County’s and measuring success by how many people were prevented from driving altogether would be far more meaningful than measuring DWI prosecutions.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.