Drunk Driving in Cumberland County

If you enjoy two or three brewskis at your favorite watering hole and then enjoy getting in your car and weaving your way home, Cumberland County is the place for you. Not that your likelihood of arrest and receiving a citation is less here than other jurisdictions, it’s just that arrest, appearance before a magistrate and a court date are about as far as it goes.

A case in point to support this thesis occurred Sunday morning, March 18, 2012.03-28-12-dwi.jpg One Omar D. McEachern was driving drunk, wrecked and his passenger was killed. He has been subsequently charged with second degree murder. That charge will undoubtedly be pleaded down to vehicular homicide, a much less serious crime. His license had been revoked due to a 2010 arrest for driving while impaired. His case was continued for almost two years. Had it been heard on a timely basis, and had McEachern received his just desserts, a young life would likely have been spared, certainly not his, but that of his young passenger.

A DWI charge anywhere should be serious business — but maybe not in Cumberland County. A DWI conviction surely affects your automobile insurance costs, your wallet and sometimes even your employment. But in Cumberland County, the offender only needs to retain a certain clique of local attorneys and then just sit back and relax.

The attorneys’ fees for handling DWI cases are significant, so the miscreant needs to take a rather large check to the attorney/client sit down. From there, a strategy is developed to circumvent the intent of the law.

And the assortment of available strategies can effectively keep someone charged with DWI out of a courtroom and facing a judge for years, if not forever. As of Feb. 25, 2012 there were 2,364 DWI cases in the Cumberland County court system, with some of them dating as far back as 1990, with 689 older than 2010. Many, if not most of those cases, will never be adjudicated. They will just drift into the night and fog of our county’s system of justice, as it applies to DWI cases.

In 2009 Dominic Tearry was speeding early one morning on Yadkin Road. He was traveling at a speed of more than 100 miles-per-hour in a 40 mph zone when he, as one would expect, wrecked. The wreck killed his cousin, a passenger. Tearry’s blood alcohol was about three times the legal limit, which is .08. The legal limit can be reached by the average adult after the consumption of just two beers, two glasses of wine or two shots of liquor within an hour.

He was charged with second degree murder. That sounds about right. But when Tearry’s case was heard in Judge Greg Week’s court, he was convicted of vehicular homicide, a lesser charge, with no explanation to the victim’s family from the district attorney’s offi ce. Superior Court Judge Weeks sentenced Tearry to 90 active days of incarceration. A young life, a husband, snuffed out and the penalty was 90 days. It gets more outrageous. Tearry may serve his time on weekends, and he may apply to his overworked parole offi cer to be excused from weekend jail time if it doesn’t fi t his schedule. So there you have it — in Cumberland County justice is not only blind, it is to drunken driving, inexplicable.

One might well ask what the district attorney’s role is in this misdirection of the justice system. Certainly the judges should not get all the blame, nor should the sly defense attorneys get all the credit, if credit is the appropriate word. Assistant district attorneys try district court cases and are often inexperienced and therefore sometimes outmaneuvered by seasoned and sophisticated defense attorneys. Another aspect of this problem of a dysfunctional criminal justice system in regards to drunken drivers is the judges who assumed their seats after a career as defense attorneys or as public defenders. It would seem that in too many instances they cannot disabuse themselves from the concept of defending the defendant rather than awarding a measure of justice to the people.

Consider carefully how, and for whom you vote for the judge seats up for election or reelection this year. Ask at public forums about the candidate’s position on DWI, repeat offenders and the clogged dockets, because judges leave court in the middle of the day and most importantly, why do they, if they are currently seated, grant continuances time after time?

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