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Thursday, September 26, 2013

DWI/DUI & The Public Interest

Today's Charlotte Observer contained an article regarding a recent audit finding that North Carolina failed to make DWI/DUI court results accessible to the general public. Under a law enacted seven years ago, North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is legally required to provide detailed information of conviction/acquittal rates in DWI cases in addition to detailed statistics on how judges and prosecutors handled cases. You can read the audit here.

To actually comply with the detailed requirements of this law, AOC would need an additional 25 million dollars in computer upgrades. In light of the AOC's technology budget being cut from 45 million dollars to 29 million, I don't see how this is going to happen.

Mecklenburg County Courthouse is a busy place. The dockets are heavy and the court staff is working with technology that is anything but cutting edge. Clerks and Attorneys use the antiquated green screen technology that resembles the computer system in the 1983 movie War Games or the MS-DOS system.

Asking the Courts to direct additional funds towards technology that focuses on a narrow set of cases should be questioned; every criminal case is fact specific. A DWI case can be dismissed for not only lack of evidence but also if the police officer is unavailable to testify. Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Officer Randall Kerrick is now facing charges of Voluntary Manslaughter in Mecklenburg County. If the District Attorney decides to dismiss all criminal cases where he was the primary police officer involved, would the court data reflect this specific reason for dismissal? Or, would the judge assigned to the courtroom where Officer Kerrick's cases were set for trial appear to be 'soft on crime' when dismissals were entered into the computer system?

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Criminal Courts & The Mentally Ill

The Charlotte Observer ran a piece today highlighting the lack of resources for mentally ill children in North Carolina. The article does not specifically address the criminal justice system, but does briefly mention how they often intersect. However, any criminal defense attorney in Mecklenburg county will tell you there is a correlation between lack of services available for mentally ill patients and criminal behavior.

The article mentions the effects of budget cuts on available services for mentally ill children. With very few places for patients to stay, many are forced into environments that pose a high risk to family members and often result in criminal conduct. The young adult is then taken into custody and a criminal case ensues.


Mecklenburg County does have mental health court. Similar to drug courts, defendants are placed on probation, have probation officers and are required to come to court regularly to speak to the judge about their progress. Many find success in this structured setting. However, some individuals have such severe diagnoses, they require secured placement. This does not exist. Most placement facilities are forced to  have a revolving door policy;  New Hope of Carolinas is a short term facility- young adults are admitted, once they are stabilized, they must be released.


It is an ongoing issue I see regularly in both criminal courts and incompetency/guardianship proceedings. Finding solutions for these issues is an ongoing effort. I'm glad the Observer chose to highlight the issue today. 

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Forced Blood Draws- A Video

Simple Justice "But for the Video, This won't hurt (me) a bit" has an eye opening video depicting several arrested for DWI/DUI undergoing a forced blood draw. It highlights the controversy around forced blood draws in DWI/DUI cases. The recent Missouri case handed down by the US Supreme Court paves the way for the necessity of a warrant in forced blood draws, however a warrant does nothing to diminish the severity of strapping citizens down, putting them in a head hold and forcing a needle in their arm.

I have blogged on the practice of forced blood draws. As a Deputy District Attorney, I handled these cases regularly and showed videos of them during jury trials. It is hard to describe how extreme, and in the words of Simple Justice, "barbaric" they are.  This video, although eight minutes in length, is worth watching.

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Juveniles in Jail?

A study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that juveniles who were sent to juvenile hall made them 13 percentage points less likely to finish high school and 22 percentage points more likely to be imprisoned as adults.  Business Insider had a short story highlighting the working paper by Anna Aizer and Joseph Doyle.
This paper analyzed over 35,00 juvenile offender during a 10 year period in the Chicago area. The authors found that incarceration had a minimal deterrent effect. Rather, punishments that included curfews and electronic monitoring resulted in a higher likelihood of juveniles becoming productive adults.

It costs on average of $88,000 a year, around $241 a day to keep a child in custody. With severe economic budget cuts in the North Carolina judicial system and juvenile crime decreasing in North Carolina, alternatives to incarceration and raising the minimun age  from 16 years to 18 years should be considered.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Operation Firecracker & DWIDUI Checkpoints

Summer may have officially started June 21st, but last night started likely the first of many DWI/DUI checkpoints in Mecklenburg County. According to the Charlotte Observer, CMPD issued forty six charges at a DWI checkpoint in South Charlotte last night. Eight people were charged with DWI/DUI and seven were charged with Driving While License Revoked. Other charges included open container of alcohol and other miscellaneous traffic charges.

North Carolina's Department of Transportation "Booze it & Lose It: Operation Firecracker" campaign runs from June 28 through July 7. I found this video on their website.

If you have been arrested for a DWI/DUI, it is important to contact an criminal defense attorney for a consultation.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

The .05 Solution

The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued a recommendation that state governments across the country should reduce the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit from .08 to .05. This caused a recent wave of media attention on drunk driving. Those who support the change cite alcohol related traffic deaths that could possibly be reduced with a lower limit. Those who oppose it, one being the director of the American Beverage Institute, state that it will do nothing to prevent the "hardcore drunk drivers" from getting behind the wheel. A USA Today editorial recommended the use of interlocks in lieu of a lower BAC.

The writing has been on the wall for this reduction for quite some time.  Criminalists I worked with at the Orange County District Attorney's Office told  me 10 years ago that .08 blood concentration would eventually be reduced to a .05 or .04..Whether this will actually happen is likely a political question within state governments. 

However, the media has not addressed the economic implications of  criminalization of lower blood alcohol concentration- the dramatic increase in criminal cases across the country. District and Superior Courts in Mecklenburg County are already overcrowded with cases. Among this backlog of cases, the North Carolina Court System just issued 80 million dollars in budget cuts over the next four years; 638 full time employees cut, including magistrates and district attorney staff that handle criminal cases. NC Policy Watch has an article that talks about this issue. Jail overcrowding and the ability of the police departments to handle such an increase in arrests on a daily basis is another issue.

Perhaps the .05 solution is not as simple as it seems.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Warrant for a DWI?

It's rare when the US Supreme Court makes a bright line legal test for anything and they continued this with the holding in Missouri v.Mcneely. However, they certainly did not give police a green light to force blood from those arrested for DWI without obtaining a warrant. Instead they used the old standby "totality of the circumstances" test and held that police officers should obtain a warrant if it could be reasonably obtained by a judicial official.

Any criminal defense lawyer in Mecklenburg County is very familiar with totality  of the circumstances test. It is a staple item in Fourth Amendment procedure. Defense attorneys and District Attorney's will now essentially be forced to 'Monday morning quarterback' the police officers decisions not to get a warrant based on the totality of the circumstances of each case.

Ten years ago, I believe prosecutors would be on the winning side of this argument that obtaining a warrant was not feasible. When I was Deputy District Attorney, I remember Narcotic Detectives telling me how they would call  the resident judge at home in the middle of the night to get warrants signed. In a DWI case, the exigency of the alcohol level  dissipating in a person arrested would not justify making a trip across town to get a warrant approved.  That would simply take too much time.

Technology has improved police procedure tremendously. Or, at least it should.

Now in world of preprinted forms, magistrates stationed at jail facility 24 hours a day and general accessibility of everyone, the prosecutor's argument that "it would of taken too much time to get a warrant" argument will be an uphill battle in a courtroom. 

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