Drunk driving conviction rates have soared in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County and other counties across the state since the Charlotte Observer reported that thousands of DWI suspects had gotten off despite testing over the alcohol limit. Mecklenburg’s conviction rate rose from 57 percent in late 2003 to 75 percent a year later. Conviction rates statewide rose since last summer, when the Observer published articles on DWI trials. The rates in some of the state’s most lenient counties have more than doubled.
The newspaper found that nearly all DWI suspects who went to trial in some counties were found guilty, while about nine of every 10 in other counties were acquitted. That prompted the state’s top Supreme Court justice to warn judges not to make prosecutors’ burden of proof more difficult than it should be. Several factors may have contributed to Mecklenburg’s rising conviction rate. The judge with the lowest rate stopped hearing cases, tougher judges were assigned to courtrooms that handle DWIs, and most judges began finding more defendants guilty.