North Carolina Strengthens Its DWI Enforcement Policy
By: Chris Kramer
In North Carolina, legislators approved a bill that will toughen DWI law and limit the leeway given to judges in DWI cases. The bill, expected to be signed by North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, passed through both the House and the Senate with little debate or opposition.
According to the new bill, those drivers who register above the legal blood alcohol content (BAC limit of 0.08) on an Intoxilyzer test will almost automatically be found guilty. The legislation limits the ability of a presiding judge to make a varying decision in a DWI case based on the driver's apparent level of impairment on the scene and other factors. The bill came after investigations concluded that state judges acquitted more than a third of DWI defendants with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit whose cases went to trial.
The bill will also create new and stronger policies surrounding the consumption of alcohol by minors and those driving while under the influence. Where previously it was only illegal for those under the age of 21 to possess alcohol, the bill will make it illegal for anyone under 21 to consume it as well. The new legislation will also require keg registration and recordkeeping, establish a DWI database, and mandate that prosecutors report why a DWI charge was reduced or dismissed.
Opposition to the bill came from some North Carolina trial lawyers. They argued that the new policy regarding blood alcohol content readings would rely too much upon one machine's results, discounting the driver's actual level of impairment.
The Senate passed the bill by a margin of 47-1, while the House registered a unanimous 109-0 vote. The new legislation emerged as a result of a task force set up to monitor drunk driving and DWI information in North Carolina.
The 5-member task force's main goals were to recommend state laws to help reduce drunk driving and to prosecute offenders, as well as to make the purchase and consumption of alcohol by minors more difficult. Lawmakers described North Carolina's DWI law as being as strong as that of any other state, but with more significant shortcomings in the consistency of the prosecution and enforcement stages.