Tarrant prosecutor seeks new options for drunk drivers



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Should first-time DWI offenders be eligible for deferred adjudication?

FORT WORTH — If you're lucky, you'll never get hit by a drunk driver. But don't think you're not paying a price.

"Seventy to 80 percent of our trial docket is DWI," said Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert.

There have been at least 118 DWI trials this year in Tarrant County. There are nearly 123,000 DWI cases pending statewide, and some are getting too old to prosecute.

"That is happening all over the place," Alpert said. "Cases are getting to be three and four years old, and that, that hurts everybody."

Alpert wants lawmakers to change state law so that first-time offenders are eligible for deferred adjudication if they agree to counseling. He said that would keep a public conviction off their records, keep them out of jail, and give them an incentive to take a plea instead of going to trial.

Alpert believes the change could also save lives. "Getting people who've committed the offense the treatment they need so they don't re-offend, as opposed to having people building up one, two, three cases while their case is pending — which happens on a regular basis," he said.

Alpert says if drivers get caught a second time, their first offense could still be used to increase punishment.

The caseload reduction free up prosecutors to focus on repeat offenders, like the man accused of leaving little Abdallah Khader of Arlington all but brain dead.

This proposal might sound a little strange coming from the guy who was named Prosecutor of the Year by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and by the Texas Bar Association.

Alpert has been invited to testify on the issue before a legislative committee in Austin next week.

"I make no excuses for being tough on DWI, but I'm a realist," he said.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com