Some North Carolina judges are not enforcing drunk driving laws, charges a Charlotte prosecutor. In the second of a series on how DWI cases are handled, the Charlotte Observer cited several episodes. In one, Charlotte police last summer stopped a suspected drunken driver who had forced another car off the road. They found open bottles of brandy and beer in his car, and he didn’t remember his age or Social Security number. Mecklenburg District Judge Jerome Leonard let him go. Police stopped another driver who stumbled out of his car and had to grab the door to keep from falling. He couldn’t recite the alphabet. Leonard let him go.
They were among 50 drunken driving suspects Leonard tried in a 14-month period after tests showed their alcohol level was right at 0.08 percent, just above the legal limit and enough, according to N.C. law, for a conviction. Leonard acquitted all 50. Said Leonard: “We have taken an oath to uphold the law. If there’s a reasonable doubt, I have a duty to find that person not guilty.” Leonard acquitted more than 130 DWI suspects overall, or six of every 10 tried in his courtroom. The Observer found suspects who go to trial in Mecklenburg are more likely to get off than those in most N.C. counties. Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist said some judges are ignoring the DWI law, which prohibits driving with an alcohol level of 0.08 or more. “All these acquittals really gut our efforts to get drunk drivers off the streets,” he said. “Judges are not following the law.”