07/26/10 — Wayne County tries new system for DWI suspects

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Wayne County tries new system for DWI suspects

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 26, 2010 2:06 PM

A new pre-trial monitoring system for people charged with driving under the influence is the latest piece of technology county officials hope will help in their efforts to reduce the population at the county jail.

The Wayne County Day Reporting Center will be the first in the state to utilize the new technology allowing authorities to monitor the alcohol levels of defendants charged with DWI.

Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones said he has been concerned for some time about alleged DWI offenders remaining in the county jail for pre-trial reasons.

A charge of driving while impaired is a misdemeanor, he said.

"It has been concerning to me that defendants charged with felonies could be released into the pre-trial program, but that accused DWI offenders could not," Jones said.

Jones learned about the new technology that can monitor those held in jail pre-trial for DWI at a June judges' conference he attended.

He said he asked the county to look into the technology, which includes GPS tracking devices that also can detect whether the accused has consumed alcohol.

The county has now purchased some of those units.

"This means we can further reduce our pre-trial jail population and at the same time, ensure that the public is protected," Jones said. "I am looking forward to using this technology, and I appreciate the efforts of our pre-trial program director Ms. Theresa Barratt, as well as our county commissioners and county manager in purchasing and utilizing this technology."

The MEMS 3000 VBR devices will cost the county about $10 a day, which is still a lot cheaper than keeping someone incarcerated for $45 a day, said Mrs. Barratt, Day Reporting Center director.

"These devices have been very successful in other states, but we're the first to use them in North Carolina," she said.

Ms. Barratt said the units would allow her office to supervise DWI defendants released from jail pending the outcome of their cases.

"They will be hooked up with a transmitter that will marry with the unit placed in their home," she said.

The monitoring unit integrates breath alcohol testing, video identity verification and radio frequency into a single home unit. When a defendant receives the (automatic) call from the system, the defendant must blow into the Breathalyzer.

"While they are blowing into the Breathalyzer, the video system will take a picture of them," Ms. Barratt said. "This is then sent to us."

Ms. Barratt said her office had not been able to supervise DWI cases prior to this technology because they could not effectively monitor the defendants.

"This system will eliminate that concern," she said. "The safety of our citizens is always our first priority."

The county will use the units on a trial basis for 60 days, free of charge.