Among the many ways that the pandemic affected life in Gaston County and across North Carolina is putting the criminal justice system into a virtual freeze. While police were still arresting people, trial dates for lower-level crimes like DWI went unscheduled. Many people charged with drinking and driving have been waiting months, if not over a year, to resolve their cases.
The result has been a growing backlog of DWI cases. Next door in Mecklenburg County, the problem is especially bad. The criminal court there reports more than 3,000 DWI cases pending. About 1,200 of those cases are on the list due to shutdown measures in place since March 2020.
Now that the courts are reopening, judges and prosecutors must find a way to get the backlog under control. They are trying a temporary DWI-only court to try to work through the cases. The DWI court is scheduled to last ten weeks, but one county judge predicts it will become permanent.
Trial is an option, not a necessity
Every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to a speedy trial. Circumstances over the last 15 months or so have made that impossible, but now that things are returning to normal, your DWI case should receive a trial date soon.
This does not necessarily mean you will go through a trial. Many, if not most, drinking and driving cases settle out of court. But trial is always an option. This can give you and your defense attorney leverage if you are challenging evidence in the case. For example, the officer who pulled you over might have lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion to do so. That could make the police stop illegal and any evidence seized inadmissible in court.