Across the state of Wisconsin, efforts to apprehend and prosecute persons suspected of driving drunk have been receiving extra attention lately. Recent editorials have called on the state to "keep fighting drunken driving," even referring to the issue of drunk driving as "Wisconsin's DUI scourge."
However, prosecuting those who are arrested and charged with DUI requires manpower in county prosecutors' offices, and in Dane County, the district attorney's office will soon be losing staff.
Funded positions to end
The problem with holding on to all of Dane County's current prosecutorial positions is a lack of funding. State and federal grants that run out in January 2013 have been paying the salaries of two Dane County drug offense prosecutors.
What's more, funding is also ending for four special prosecutors who were hired to substitute when full-time prosecutors take leave from their jobs. That means the Dane County District Attorney's office will be losing six positions.
Population growth not matched
While Dane County's population steadily increased over 25 years, from approximately 340,000 in 1985 to over 488,000 in 2010, state funding for the DA's office has stagnated.
The DA's office can now pay for a maximum of 26.85 full-time equivalent employees who are designated as assistant district attorneys and deputy district attorneys. These positions include what the state will fund, plus one position funded by a grant to prosecute crimes associated with serious motor vehicle accidents.
The 26.85 positions come to roughly the same staffing level as in 1985.
In the state as a whole, it's been the same story. A 2007 study revealed that district attorneys' offices across Wisconsin were short 117 positions for optimally managing their 2006 cases.
Grants for prosecutors have dried up
When grant funding was available over past years, the Dane County DA's office had 30 prosecutors in 1998, and later expanded to employ more than 34 prosecutors. Less money is now available for Wisconsin from federal sources.
At the state level, the Office of Justice Assistance, or OJA, distributes what grant money is available, and priorities for scarce funding have shifted. A legislative liaison for the OJA commented that money is increasingly going to pay for strategic planning and for evidence-based processes, rather than for prosecution. As a result, the face of Wisconsin's justice system is changing.
The future for DUI offenders
Although the Dane County District Attorney has asked the state for more funding, odds are not in his favor. The changing level of staff in prosecutors' offices in Dane County and the rest of Wisconsin is likely to affect how DUI cases are handled.
It is important for anyone accused of DUI to obtain the help of an experienced Wisconsin attorney specializing in this area of law. No matter what strategies prosecutors resort to when short-staffed, having an effective advocate could make a big difference in defending against DUI charges.