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Archive for May, 2011

Reforms to NC Criminal Law

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

For the first time in about 100 years, the Republicans control the state legislature in Raleigh. Usually Republicans are regarded as “tougher” on crime than Democrats, and so it somewhat surprising that over the past 100 years North Carolina has developed a criminal justice system that is largely – though not entirely – difficult for criminal defendants.

Now that the Republicans are in control, some people had worried that the climate toward criminal defendants would be even more hostile. But some signs of reform are emerging from the General Assembly.

First, in 1994, North Carolina adopted structured sentencing which eliminated parole. Structured sentencing limits the way in which a judge can depart downward from a presumptive sentence, meaning that it favors harsh punishments.

As a result, while crime rates have fallen in North Carolina over the past decade, the number of people incarcerated in North Carolina’s jails and prisons has increased by 23 percent. The vast majority of the increase is the result of harsher punishments for non-violent drug crimes – drug possession, drug sales, maintaining a dwelling where controlled substances are used or sold, and so forth.

But now with a massive budget deficit looming, the Republican-controlled General Assembly is looking to lessen punishments for non-violent crimes and change certain felonies into misdemeanors.

This is the right approach. Violent felonies should be punished harshly. But non-violent crimes – where there is no victim and where there is merely the sale or possession of a drug – are costing North Carolinians billions of dollars in extra spending while achieving little in terms of safety.

Second, the General Assembly is considering introducing post-release supervision. While I don’t particularly favor creating new punishments after release, if someone has otherwise behaved properly in prison, and can be released early and placed on a supervision program, it can dramatically decrease costs and increase safety.

Raleigh criminal lawyer Damon Chetson helps people charged with serious felonies, misdemeanors, and other crimes in the state and federal courts of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411 for more information.

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How Much Does a DWI in Texas Actually Cost?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

If you’ve driven down Barton Springs Road in Austin, you may have noticed a billboard sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation. The billboard claims that a DWI could cost you $17,000 and directs readers to the website On the website, viewers can watch a YouTube video that illustrates through social media how an unnamed woman racked up $17,422 in debt from one night of drinking and driving.

But several Austinites have questioned the validity of the $17,000 price tag that TxDOT assigns to DWIs-enough, in fact, to prompt PolitiFact to research the true cost of driving drunk. Sure enough, the data that TxDOT relied on to create the billboard was taken from interviews with 30 people-a random assortment of DWI offenders, prosecutors, DPS employees, and more-rather than concrete data.

The video from shows a brief overview of where the $17,000 went, from the tow truck to bail and lawyer payments to a license fee. It also shows other non-monetary losses that the woman suffers, like missing out on a lake trip with friends, being dumped by her boyfriend, and getting fired-all of which, of course, are not guaranteed by a DWI.

PolitiFact found that a more accurate average of the cost of a DWI would be around $13,000. However, there are dozens of variables that even that number doesn’t account for. Attorney fees, fines, and insurance rate adjustments can vary greatly from case to case. Additionally, a University of Texas mathematician who contributed to the research claimed that an accurate average cost could only be determined on a regional basis, since attorney payments and court fees fluctuate depending on where the incident occurs.

Furthermore, even the label of “DWI” could refer to an incident involving a first-time offender who didn’t cause a collision or injuries, or a fourth-time offender who caused a three-car pileup. Obviously, the price tags for these two cases would be drastically different. For the former offender, the total for a lawyer, court fees, fines, and other costs could stay in the $6,000 range.

The message at the end of TxDOT’s video is valuable: designate a driver, and avoid spending money on court costs, towing and impoundment, and alcohol education. However, perhaps it would be more persuasive if the number displayed on the billboard reflected a more conclusive study on the cost of drinking and driving. A DWI charge will inevitably take a chunk out of your paycheck, but slapping a $17,000 price tag on all DWIs overlooks a myriad of factors that play into each case.

For more information about the costs of driving while intoxicated, visit the McMinn Law Firm which helps people who have been charged with an alcohol related offense and need an Austin DWI lawyer.

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