Commentary

Too far away from justice

MCT Information ServicesAugust 24, 2012 

The following editorial appeared Monday in The Mountaineer of Waynesville:

The time has passed for North Carolina to find a better way to enforce its driving while under the influence laws. Lack of staff and funding has put those on the front lines of holding violators accountable in a tight spot.

In District Court this week, charges against a repeat offender were dismissed after months of waiting for blood alcohol test results and several failed attempts to compel a former SBI lab analyst in Raleigh to travel to Haywood County to testify.

The N.C. Attorney General’s office has long identified the need for additional testing capabilities at the Asheville state crime lab, but instead of getting increased funding to make this possible, the legislature cut the budget.

That paved the way for an accused third-time DWI offender to get off with a slap on the wrist and skirt the possible two-year jail sentence and perhaps the permanent loss of his driver’s license – a sentence he could have received if the state lab analyst had been available to testify.

Ellen Pitt, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Western North Carolina, was incensed by the course of events and has stepped up efforts to ensure that drunk and drugged drivers are removed from the roadways. Pitt monitors every drinking or drugged driving case in the region and is usually in court during proceedings.

“From my own observations and DWI case-tracking, I think I can say without reservation, that 35 to 50 percent of DWI blood cases are being dismissed because of blood evidence that has not been analyzed for as long as a year, or the failure of the analyst to appear in court,” Pitt states.

The short-term solution, she contends, is to deal harshly with lab analysts who don’t make time to testify in court. The longer-term solution is to have a fully equipped lab in Western North Carolina so our region can stop being short-changed because of its distance from Raleigh.

Pitt’s position is shared by law enforcement and district attorney personnel. There is nothing more frustrating than to do one of the jobs they are expected to do – arrest and prosecute those who make the highways unsafe for others – only to have their efforts cut short at the final stage in the process.

As state legislative candidates campaign for a seat in the General Assembly, ask incumbents how they voted on this issue. Then find out how all candidates vying for the positions intend to vote next year when the issue comes up again.

MCT Information Services

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