Courts take action to catch up with backlogged DWI cases due to pandemic

CHARLOTTE — Court cases have been piling up during the pandemic, which means delays in trying cases that affect the safety of our community.

Courts are taking special measures to try and catch up.

The pandemic may have thinned traffic on the streets, but it didn’t stop people from drinking and driving.

Most trials, including DWIs, in Mecklenburg County have been on hold for more than a year.

At the end of 2020, there were almost 3,000 DWI cases pending in the county. About 830 of the cases are pending specifically because of COVID-19, which was enough to put Mecklenburg County on state’s list of counties of concern.

The courts dedicated one courtroom for DWI trials for the next 10 weeks.

“This is the first step, but it’s a major step,” said Bruce Lillie, an assistant district attorney.

[Courts face backlogs due to COVID-19 shutdowns as families wait for justice]

Lillie told Channel 9 they hope to get between 50 and 75 DWI cases into court each week for the next 10 weeks starting with the oldest cases.

He said the pandemic delays have had one positive effect in buying more time for prosecutors to prepare their cases.

“The assistant DAs are spending more time before the trial looking at the body-worn camera of the officers, going over the various material we have regarding the case,” Lillie said. “They know about the driving. They know about the tests that were done, and they’re able to present a better case.”

Prosecutors are hoping 10 weeks of trials will take a big chunk out of the backlog, but that may be optimistic.

“I don’t know if it’ll ever catch up, to be honest,” said Brad Smith, a defense attorney.

Smith said before COVID-19 there were often three courtrooms here with trials going at once and even there were delays.

“This is better than nothing, but is this going to clean up what is an unbelievable backlog of cases right now?” Smith asked.