After three years of work, legislators have approved a far-reaching overhaul of the state’s DWI laws that would impose tougher penalties for those who cause fatal accidents and limit the discretion of judges, which in the past has resulted in many DWI charges being reduced or completely tossed out of court. The measure (HB 1048) would also require merchants to keep records on keg sales and make it a misdemeanor for anyone younger than 21 to drink an alcoholic beverage
The DWI changes create three new felonies – and stiffer penalties – for automobile accidents that involve impaired driving and result in serious injury or death. The new proposal would also put pressure on prosecutors. Under the new rules, if a person’s impaired driving charges are reduced or dismissed, the prosecutor must document his reasoning and the court will make that decision available to the public. Lawmakers had discussed this proposal as a way to prevent arbitrary dismissals or reductions. The bill also urges judges to get training on the DWI laws. Many of the reforms came at the request of Gov. Mike Easley’s DWI task force, which was formed in 2003 and turned over about 40 recommendations to the General Assembly in early 2005. There were no members of the defense bar on the task force, and defense lawyers have expressed some concerns with various elements of the bill.