The Napa County district attorney’s office has received a $320,000 grant to prosecute motorists arrested for suspected driving under the influence in an effort to curb drunk driving in Napa County and reduce recidivism, according to county representatives.
The grant will allow the DA’s office to create a unit to prosecute DUI cases, most of them misdemeanors.
“Whatever we can do to deter people (from driving under the influence) is money well spent,” said Napa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Keith Caldwell.
On Nov. 13, the Board of Supervisors agreed to accept the grant administered through the California Office of Traffic Safety.
The grant pays the salary of a prosecutor who will handle the majority of the 1,100-plus cases referred to the district attorney’s office annually. The grant also funds the salaries of support staff, including a secretary and a part-time investigator and some time for a victim advocate.
Under the new structure, Deputy District Attorney Katy Yount, an attorney on staff, will prosecute misdemeanor DUIs while other attorneys will oversee felony cases.
“Establishing a specialized or ‘vertical’ unit assigned to DUI cases will significantly enhance the district attorney’s efforts to prosecute these cases aggressively and reduce recidivism,” according to the grant application.
District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said the grant will “allow us to not only step up enforcement efforts but to actively partner with other agencies to increase public outreach and understanding of this continued danger to the health and safety of our community.”
Driving under the influence of either drug or alcohol is a “huge” problem in Napa County, Lieberstein said. According to the grant application, the district attorney’s office filed 1,114 cases in 2010, and 1,150 in 2011. There were also three DUI-related fatalities in Napa County in 2010, four in 2011 and nine in 2008.
The district attorney’s office will used the grant to better coordinate the prosecution of drug-related DUI cases with law enforcement. The grant cites the case of Christiaan Dewet, who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter after crashing and killing a Napa woman in March 2011 at the intersection of Redwood Road and Linda Vista Avenue.
According to the application, no “Drug Recognition Examination” was performed at the scene of the crash, referring to a series of tests to determine if someone is under the influence of a drug. In addition, a police officer concluded that Dewet was not under the influence.
However, a blood analysis later showed a very high level of methamphetamine in Dewet’s blood, according the document.
The state Department of Justice expert was unable to conclude that Dewet was driving under the influence, the application stated. “While he was ultimately convicted of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and sentenced to prison, his term could have and should have been significantly longer due to his drugged state,” according to the grant application.
Dewet was sentenced in April to eight years and eight months in state prison for vehicular manslaughter and burglary, according to court documents.
The grant began Oct. 1. The district attorney hopes to have the grant renewed every year.
Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said his department looks forward to the additional training available with the grant. The California Highway Patrol also supports the district attorney’s efforts.
“We are looking forward to working with the DA and support them in their efforts to reduce DUI,” CHP Officer Garrett Ray said. “With a county-wide coordinated effort and a prosecutor that is assigned to handle all DUI cases, this method should be very effective.”
Ronald Abernethy, chief deputy public defender, whose office defends indigent defendants with 13 attorneys, does not believe more DUI cases will be filed.
“The district attorney is currently prosecuting all individuals who have been arrested for driving under the influence. Unless there is a dramatic increase in the utilization of sobriety check points I don’t anticipate an increase in the number of driving under the influence cases over and above those that are currently being prosecuted,” Abernethy said.
“Historically the Public Defender has not requested additional resources until such time as an increase in our case load warrants the request and we are not requesting additional resources as the result of the new grant,” Abernethy said.