05/15/06 — County is asking to charge offenders

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County is asking to charge offenders

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 15, 2006 1:48 PM

Wayne County's Board of Commissioners is asking legislators in Raleigh to help keep two programs profitable -- one helps convict drunken drivers, and the other helps keep people out of the county jail.

When suspected drunken drivers are pulled over, many have refused an alcohol breath test. Wayne County once had the largest number of Breathalyzer refusals in the state, but a new program has cut the number of refusals significantly, Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory said.

In 2004, the Goldsboro Police Department implemented a program to extract a blood alcohol sample from a suspected drunken driver via a warrant. If the person refuses the traditional breath test, the police officer can obtain a warrant from a magistrate and have an on-call health professional extract the blood sample.

Although an officer can testify in court that a person is intoxicated, the sample provides enough evidence for conviction, Vickory said. During the past two years, dozens of drunken drivers have been convicted, he added.

After the success of the Goldsboro police's efforts, the Highway Patrol, Mount Olive Police Department and the Wayne County Sheriff's Office also implemented the program.

In Wayne County, the blood alcohol program has been funded by a grant, but that money ran out in March. The commissioners voted to keep the program running for a month and are now asking legislators for the power to charge convicted drunken drivers the cost of collecting the blood alcohol specimen.

County Manager Lee Smith said the county staff recommended using emergency medical services workers to collect blood specimens, which would lower the county's costs by using existing personnel.

The commissioners are also asking legislators to allow them to charge offenders who are sentenced to electronic house arrest the cost of the montioring them. The fines would be added to court costs and would help reimburse the county, Smith said.

A current law only allows a $15 charge for placing a person under house arrest.

When a person is placed under electronic house arrest, he or she is fitted with a device around the ankle that can be monitored to make sure he or she stays within a designated area, Smith said.

The county uses the program to alleviate crowding in the county jail, he said.

The six floors of the county jail were built to house 200 inmates, but the usually holds more than its capacity, Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said.

In 2004, the county hired Brennan and Associates to assess the jail. The company's study concluded the jail's population would be 312 inmates in 2020, Smith said.

To prepare, county officials have considered a design to extend the jail. The project would cost about $14.5 million and provide an additional 160 beds, Smith said.