DA’s office receives grant for DUI prosecutions

For the sixth year in a row the Tulare County District Attorney receives traffic safety grant in the amount of $179,000

VISALIA – Driving under the influence is an offense that could cost a driver their life, as well as the lives of others. However, a grant to the district attorney’s office will help prosecute motorists who decided to risk their lives for the crime.

District Attorney Tim Ward announced the award of a California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) Grant on Nov. 7, which will help the Tulare County District Attorney’s (TCDA) office prosecute cases of driving under the effects of drugs and/or alcohol. Ward said it would be ideal if in the coming fiscal year and years after that, Tulare County no longer had a need to prosecute people for driving under the influence. 

“It’s so avoidable, with rideshare and other options that are out there right now,” Ward said. “DUI is just such an avoidable crime. It’s very frustrating for us and tragic for the families involved.”

The $179,000 grant will continue to fund the office’s vertical prosecution team through September 2023, with a primary focus on financing felony DUI cases involving injury as well as attorney training. The vertical prosecution team follows a system which allows a prosecutor to see the case through from start to finish, and includes keeping in contact with DUI victims’ families throughout the duration of the case.

The program’s funding was provided by a grant from OTS through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency with a focus on reducing vehicle-related accidents.

“This grant will continue to allow a senior prosecutor to guide a victim’s family through the criminal justice process, and we are grateful to the Office of Traffic Safety for recognizing our office’s efforts to bring justice for victims of this crime,” Ward said.

On top of financing the special prosecution team, the grant will be used to develop protocols on handling cases through every step of the criminal process. It will also provide training for prosecutors and investigators through statewide Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor (TSRP) program as well as aid the office in hosting quarterly regional meetings with law enforcement partners to improve DUI investigations and prosecutions.

Under the 2021-22 Alcohol and Drug Impaired Driver Vertical Prosecution Program grant, the DUI prosecutor with TCDA’s vertical prosecution team filed approximately 68 cases, focusing on incidents where there were felony repeat offenders and DUI incidents that resulted in injury or death. This is from an overall total of 2,254 DUI cases filed by the district attorney’s office, which is an overall average in the county, according to Ward. A five-year statistical average shows that there are about 2,351 DUI felonies per year. 

Of this year’s DUI cases, 1,944 were alcohol only, 188 were drug only and 122 cases included a combination of drug and alcohol usage.

Although the 68 cases filed by the vertical prosecution team are a decrease from cases filed in prior years, which are usually a little under double the amount, Ward said the difference can be attributed to a staffing issue. Because the prosecution team is short on staff, the prosecutor working the cases was instructed to focus on the “worst of the worst” cases.

Prior to his instruction as district attorney, Ward said the office began working with OTS through a training program. He said an OTS-hired statewide training prosecutor, who would travel up and down the state, would visit the area and train deputy district attorneys on DUI filings and the trends around it. 

Although unsure if OTS has offered the grant before, Ward said the district attorney’s office jumped at the opportunity to utilize the grant for the first time six-years-ago. This happened after the need for the funding was identified, as drunk driving is a prominent issue. Ward said there is typically an increase in DUI cases towards the end of the year, specifically during the holidays.

“This holiday season, I urge everyone to make the right decision and not drive under the influence,” Ward said.

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