Law can allow drunken drivers back on the road

December 28, 2011 5:33:25 AM PST
The answer to an I-Team investigation on how a Holly Springs man got two DWIs in less than four hours may surprise some.

It has to do with the way North Carolina's law works. Believe it or not, some say it paved the way for that incident to happen.

At issue is whether police and magistrates are releasing drunken driving suspects while they are still drunk and potentially still making bad decisions. Right now, the law lets that happen.

Now, however, many are calling for a change.

It happened Dec. 21 when Tom Carey got nailed twice for DWI in less than four hours. The first time, on Avent Ferry Road, Holly Springs police said Carey blew a .28 and was taken to the Wake County Jail.

About two hours later, he was released. A friend told ABC11 that Carey took a cab back to his car and drove home. That's where police were waiting for him. 

That time, police say he blew a .20, which suggests he was still drunk when a magistrate let him go.

"I just don't understand," said the President of the Durham Chapter of MADD, Ollie Jeffers. "I just don't understand how this could happen."

Jeffers says she had no idea people could be released from jail still under the influence.

"You see what happens," said Jeffers. "He gets behind the wheel again and the person gets behind the wheel again and again."

State law allows it to happen. DWI offenders go before judicial magistrates. They decide whether to let them go based on appearance and body language, not their blood alcohol level. The law doesn't require retesting. Sources say it's rarely done.

"We release scores of people every month who are still impaired," said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.

Willoughby says DWI offenders are usually sent home with other, sober adult. However, that's not always the case. Carey caught a cab back to his car. 

"We ought to keep this person until we're sure that he or she is not a danger to the public," said Willoughby.

Willoughby says, because of legal precedent, cases like the "State v. Knoll," courts consistently side with offenders. That's why he says state law needs to change.

"I think we ought to be focused on public safety more than the individual's right," said Willoughby.

Meanwhile, Jeffers says, until that happens, she'll fight to make it happen.

"We need to make sure that that is one of the laws now that we really lobby for, because there has to be something done, because this is surely going to happen again and again, now," said Jeffers.

Magistrates don't have to release DWI offenders right away. If they're considered a danger to themselves or others, magistrates can keep offenders locked up.

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