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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A Brunswick County judge refused to continue the cases of dozens of accused drunk drivers, forcing the prosecutor to drop the charges. Not because the defendants were innocent, but because of a procedural technicality.
Late last month, Judge Jerry Jolly refused to continue the cases against 16 defendants arrested by Brunswick County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Medlin. Deputy Medlin had a scheduling conflict, and notified the district attorney's office in advance.
Prosecutors say DWI cases are routinely continued, usually at the defense's request, and they didn't expect any problems when asking for a continuance due to Medlin's scheduling conflict. But in court, Judge Jolly denied their request to continue Medlin's case, and as a result all the cases were dismissed.
"I was very shocked to say the least," said Sheriff John Ingram. "It's something that I haven't seen before"
Then, it happened again. Last Wednesday, Deputy John Rogers had a scheduling conflict because of training.
Prosecutors again requested that Judge Jolly continue Rogers' cases. But Judge Jolly refused, forcing prosecutors to drop the charges against all 20 of the people Rogers arrested who were in court that day, mostly for Driving While Impaired.
"We're dealing with people's lives here," Ingram said about those alleged offenders being put back on the street, putting the public at risk. "It is very disheartening to see the system fail us like it has this time."
Sheriff's deputies spent the day today re-charging all of the defendants whose charges were dropped. DA Jon David says it's the only option they have if they want to get the accused drunk drivers held responsible for their actions.
"There's a considerable amount of time and expense which goes with re-charging somebody," David explained. "You have to get a magistrate to institute charges. A deputy has to go out and find that person and charge them. A clerk has to create a new file. And then they're brought back into the same courtroom, where ironically that charge was just dismissed."
We called Judge Jolly for an explanation but never heard back from him. We do know legislative budget cuts ended Brunswick's County's DWI court program in October. There are now more than 1,000 pending DWI cases in Brunswick and Columbus County swamping the District Court system. Jon David thinks this may have been Judge Jolly's attempt to handle some of that backlog.
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