Chief Judge Harold H. Greene of the D.C. Superior Court announced yesterday a new emergency plan to deal with a massive increase in the number of drunken driving cases now before the city's courts.
The increase in arrests has resulted from a concentrated campaign by the Metropolitan Police Department to apprehend persons driving while intoxicated. There were 2.613 drunken driving arrests in Washington the first six months of this year compared to 900 such arrests during all of 1974, Greene said in a memorandum to Superior Court judges.
The police department's campaign to arrest drunken drivers is being paid for by $530,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
As a result of the huge increase in arrests, prosecution of traffic offenses in which the defendant can demand a trial by jury, such as drunken driving, has risen from 375 cases per month last year to 600 cases per month now, Greene said.
Two-thirds of the 600 cases involve drunken driving, a misdemeanor punishable on the first offense by six months in prison, a $500 fine or both.
"If the present trend continues or accelerates - as is expected - the number of such prosecutions in 1977 and 1978 is likely to be close to three times what it was only two years ago," Greene said.
The increase in traffic arrests has not been accompanied by an increase in court resources, Greene said. As a result, he said, "the Superior Court's misdemeanor backlog, which stood at 2.639 on July 1, 1975, rose to 5,771 on July 1, 1977."
To reduce the backlog, Greene said that for a four-week period beginning Sept. 6, three judges will review the 2,410 jury-demandable traffic cases now pending in court and dispose of those that ultimately will not require trail by jury.
Under the new plan, prosecutors will be expected to review their cases before review by the judge and determine if the charges warrant dismissal.
Defense attorneys will also be required to consult their clients to determine if a jury trial will be demanded or whether the case can be disposed of in some other way.
This temporary concentration on the mass of cases, which otherwise would have lumbered along through the regular misdemeanor calendar. should reduce the backlog to manageable proportions, Greene said.
He said he expects the review of the cases, called a "status call," will "remove substantially more cases than will be added during the four-week period."
Greene said that if the four-week-long emergency assault on the drunken driving case backlot "cannot cure the underlying problem, I will request legislation for additional judgeships."
The huge increase in drunken driving arrests is the product of a police pilot program which began in March, 1975. Police officers have received special training, breathalyzers, which are used by police to measure the alcohol level in a person's bloodstream, and other equipment. The pilot program was extended citywide last April.
The D.C. Corporation Counsel's office, which prosecutes traffic offenses, has received $140,000 of the grant money, Greene said.
The funds should be sufficient to allow the Corporation Counsel's office to hire three additional prosecutors and supporting personnel to be used exclusively to carry out the drucken driving program, Greene said.
The effect of the police crack down on the Superior Court has been significant, Greene said. The court's calender of jury-demanadble traffic cases, which numbered 3,000 per year in 1975, or 12 cases per day, now stands at 7,000 per year, or 30 a day, he said.
"The consequences are another example of what will happen when the public, often with considerable justification, demands vigorous action with respect to criminal activity of one type or another," Greene said in the memo.
"Funds and personnel are then normally distributed relatively freely to law enforcement agencies such as the police, but little or no account is taken of the impact of the increased workload on the courts through which violators must inevitably pass if this law enforcement activity is to have any lasting effect," Greene said.
Over the past six weeks, Greene said he has attempted to deal with the misdemanor case backlog by assigning a substantial portion of judges to handle the misdemeanor case calender.
Between July 1 and Aug. 15, Greene said pending misdemanor cases were reduced from 5,990 to 5,771.
Greene said he decided to make the concentrated, four-week effort to cut down on the backlog because it is "clear that judges cannot continue in be assigned to misdemeanor cases in these numbers without serious jeopardy to the other responsibilities of the court."
Currently, 42 judges sit at the Superior Court and hear misdemeanor, felony and family law cases. Two new judges have been nominated to the court by President Carter but their appointments have yet to be confirmed by the Senate.