Judge: DUI cases 'been going up the last two years'

Cary Ashby • Mar 3, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Judge Eric Weisenburger said if you see an overall increase in cases being filed in Norwalk Municipal Court, there’s a good chance it’s from a related rise in traffic cases.

In 2017, there were 7,493 traffic cases filed. The largest amount in 10 years was 9,579 in 2009. Traffic cases include citations for speeding, failure to control and driving with a suspended license.

Calling traffic cases the “barometer” for the cases handled by municipal court, Weisenburger said in general, if there’s an increase in the case load, “that’s the first place to look.”

The court had 391 driving under the influence (DUI) cases filed in 2017, making it the second-largest amount over the last 10 years. 

“They have been going up the last two years,” said Weisenburger, who has been the municipal court judge since May 31, 2013.

The highest amount of DUIs filed over the last 10 years was 405 in 2007. From 2008 through 2016, the average number of cases was 317.

Weisenburger said most of the recent DUI cases come from the Norwalk Police Department and Huron County Sheriff’s Office, which reflects a generally proactive approach by law enforcement.

“They are issuing more citations,” the judge added, referring to Norwalk police. “Their numbers have gone up markedly.”

Reviewing his annual report, Weisenburger said civil cases were up in 2017. There were 2,035 such cases filed, which is the highest number in five years. Between 2013 and 2016, the annual average for civil cases was about 1,659.

Weisenburger said the 2017 increase comes from the recent “jurisdictional limit” for small claims. Previously, someone could be sued for up $3,000, but as of 2016, that figure has increased to $6,000.

“As a result of that, we see more small-claim cases; we saw that coming,” the judge said.

The amount of felony cases filed in 2017 was comparable to 2016 — 274 and 286, respectively. Weisenburger said there wasn’t “a meaningful shift” in the types of charges.

There was a small increase in misdemeanors that were filed in 2017 — 1,642 compared to 1,586 the previous year. In the last five years, the largest amount of misdemeanors was 1,765 in 2013.

In 2017, there were eight jury trials.

“That’s a little bit higher than normal,” Weisenburger said.

Early fall saw the start of the drug-court program, which was authorized by the Ohio Supreme Court. To be eligible, defendants must have a history of drug abuse and have to agree to participate in the roughly two-year program. The participants qualify through the intensive-supervision probation department.

“Given the problem we have with the drug issue, they are becoming more common in municipal courts,” Weisenburger said, referring to drug court.

Nine defendants currently are participating in the program.

“They have to realize they have a problem and are going to be worked hard to complete it,” Weisenburger said. “Participants proceed through it at different rates. We have not had anybody graduate because we are fairly new. A successful completion is not an easy thing.”

The nearest courts with a similar program are in Fremont and Mansfield.

“That’s pretty much it for the area,” Weisenburger said.

In 2017, the Ohio Justice Alliance for Community Corrections awarded and ranked the intensive-supervision probation department as third best in the state.

“It’s a long interview and application process,” Weisenburger said.

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