State legislators would do well to repair a situation in which more than 10,000 drunk driving cases are dismissed each year, according to an analysis by The Charlotte Observer. That's one in every five suspects who gets off free - and that's simply too many cases that are slipping through the cracks.
The Observer found that the charges primarily are dismissed not because of weak evidence but because either police officers or the suspects don't show up for their court dates.
In 2003, there were 554 alcohol-related deaths in traffic accidents in North Carolina alone, according to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Those deaths would not have occurred if drivers had not chosen to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. State law must be enforced strictly to prevent drivers from thinking they can get away with the crime even if they're caught.
Legislative inaction regarding this problem could send a message that state officials don't care about justice. The General Assembly should crack down strongly on these cases to nix any such ideas.
One strong suggestion by Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, deserves the serious consideration of legislators who want to get tough on the matter. Failure to appear in court for a DWI charge should result in an automatic conviction.
There's always room for an appeals process, should there be extenuating circumstances for DWI suspects Regardless, drunk driving cases never should be dismissed because a defendant fails to show up at trial.
Tough measures are required to combat perceptions effectively, but hard stances shouldn't lead to bureaucratic paper-pushing. Proposals to build a database system to examine the dismissal problem in each court district would do just that.
Tracking bail amounts and trying to figure out where the problem lies is unnecessary, especially given the detailed studies that the Observer already has provided. Money should go toward fixing the problem, not examining the obvious.
Drunk driving is a serious problem that needlessly takes the lives of hundreds of North Carolinians every year. Lawmakers should ensure that the full force of the law is felt by offenders.
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