There are a lot of reasons why drinking and driving is still a problem in the United States, including law enforcement not having the resources to stop all those who get behind the wheel while drunk to lawyers having the time to compile the evidence and push through the paperwork required to prosecute the cases. Yet even though law enforcement sent nearly 60,000 people to court for charges related to driving while impaired (DWI) in North Carolina, only 60% of those cases resulted in a conviction.

Why so many cases of DWI without a conviction? A recent investigation by WECT, a local television station, discovered that prosecutors voluntarily dismissed 21% of the cases. The reasons why the cases were dismissed vary, with some dismissed because the arresting officer wasn’t present in court, and others because there were no official lab results for blood alcohol concentrations (BAC).

The investigation also found, after searching through the paperwork required when a case is dismissed, that one prosecutor was responsible for a large amount of dismissals including one case where a 56 year old man had 4 previous DWI convictions on record. This case was dismissed despite the fact the defendant registered double the legal limit on a roadside breathalyzer and failed field sobriety tests, yet the investigation found the dismissal may have been due to the fact that both the officer and the prosecutor didn’t believe there was enough evidence to convict the man.

The problem with so many cases of DWI being dismissed is that it puts drunk drivers back on the road again. DWI penalties like fines, jail time, and ignition interlock programs are put into place to stop drivers from driving drunk. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has statistics that show penalties like ignition interlocks stop drunk drivers from driving again by up to 67%, so if their cases are dismissed and there are no penalties, what’s stopping them from getting behind the wheel drunk another time?

The good thing about WECT’s investigation is that it opened the eyes of the local District Attorney’s office. Maybe now there will be a change in how DWI cases are prosecuted in North Carolina.

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