DWI case backlog jeopardizes public safety - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

WNCN Investigates

DWI case backlog jeopardizes public safety

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A backlog of DWI cases in Wake County is jeopardizing public safety, the county's district attorney said.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby says there is a "critical need" to move DWI cases through the system faster in order to protect the drivers in Wake County.

Wake County leads the state with an average of 5,000 DWI cases per year. But getting a case heard in DWI court is taking longer than ever before. On average the length of time between a DWI arrest and a trial is nearly one year.

Wake County Chief District Court Judge Robert Rader says recent changes in state laws and limited resources are to blame. Rader pointed to laws that have made trying DWI cases more complex.

"It used to be years ago we could try a DWI in 15 or 20 minutes. Now sometimes with pretrial motions and all it can take hours," Rader said.

Approximately 750 DWI cases are pending in Wake County. That means, 750 offenders are driving the streets waiting for their case to be heard and their punishment decided.

"If you have someone who is a repeat offender, it tells you that you have a high probability that they're going to re-offend. So you worry about them being out there on the road and possibly ending up in an accident where someone could get injured or killed. That's your biggest fear," Rader said.

Too often, that fear becomes a reality -- 15 percent of DWI offenders become repeat offenders.

Ray Norman Rouse, 34 is one of them. Police say Rouse was drinking and driving last month when he turned the wrong way on Wade Avenue, slammed into a vehicle head-on and killed an elderly couple.

WNCN Investigates found the incident marked Rouse's third DWI charge, yet Rouse is back on the streets waiting for a court date.

"We need to do something to get them off the road and protect the public," Willoughby said.

Beginning Monday, the county will open a second DWI court for several hours every afternoon to expedite DWI cases at no additional cost to taxpayers. Willoughby expects the move will increase the number of cases the county is able to try by 40 percent

Willoughby says the goal is simple: "Get these cases tried quicker, and get these people off the road so you and I don't meet them on the way home."

Charlotte Huffman

An award-winning journalist with an investigative edge, Charlotte has driven legislative change with reports on workplace safety concerns and contaminated groundwater. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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