It's true, in a sense, but in San Antonio the witnesses most likely not to show up in court turn out to be police officers, reported WOAI radio (4/29), which recently analyzed missing witnesses in DWI cases. WOAI reporters:
pored over hundreds of DWI cases and discovered that 609 cases have been dismissed since 2005 because of a missing witness. Those witnesses in the overwhelming majority of cases were the law enforcement officers who made the arrests.This is an excellent piece of paper trail journalism, and it really makes you wonder what the similar data are on missing police witnesses in other jurisdictions, and for other types of crimes. A furious Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative was interviewed for the story, and Bexar District Attorney Susan Reed had this to say:
“It does not do us any good to enhance patrols, to put all the officers in the world on the street to arrest people, unless they are all committed to coming down here and testifying in court when we need them."However, Ms. Reed may not be entirely correct about that. Because alcohol treatment often isn't part of DWI sentences, even for offenders with multiple violations, I'm not sure the prosecution is of as great a benefit as the DA implies. In fact, it can create a whole new set of problems.
I wonder if having officers take a drunk off the street at the moment he or she is risking the public might not produce a greater public safety benefit per enforcement dollar spent than punishment after the fact?
Indeed, especially for misdemeanor cases, the hassle of getting arrested, paying a lawyer, and other time and money expenses may be as big a punishment as the court metes out as a sentence. Even if the case is ultimately dismissed, as the cutline to this blog declares, "You might beat the rap but you won't beat the ride."
Certainly it's important for officers to testify, but when resources are scarce it may well be a bigger benefit to public safety to have an officer take two or three new drunks of the street than sit for hours in court waiting to prosecute a sober person. Maybe not. I don't know the answer but its worth asking the question. At a minimum, I'm not sure the tradeoff is so cut and dried as Ms. Reed suggests.