Shelby County’s top prosecutor appeared before Memphis City Council on Tuesday to unravel the myriad factors that must be reconciled before her office can charge an offender with drag racing — a societal risk that has been around nearly as long as automobiles.
Like other parts of the United States, Memphis is undergoing a wave of reckless driving. Data showing the increase in dangerous driving is lagging: complete datasets on arrests, fines and fatalities are at least a year behind.
But for many, the level of dangerous driving in Memphis feels higher lately, data or no data. The city’s own top cop, Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis, has spoken on the subject several times.
Weirich, who appeared before the Public Safety and Homeland Security Commission, explained that the most common outcome for drag racing and reckless driving charges after a person has been arrested or a criminal record issued is being fired.
“There are a whole host of reasons why we as prosecutors are dismissing cases, be it drag racing, murder or anything in between,” Weirich said. Reason number one is a lack of evidence.
“The fact that an arrest has been made and someone is charged with a crime does not automatically transfer to a situation where we can move on.”
Currently, Weirich’s office has 56 pending drag race cases, compared to 1,044 reckless cases. Reckless driving, Weirich said, is rarely a standalone charge, but often accompanies other charges.
For example, if someone is arrested for drink-driving, they are automatically charged with reckless driving. And when a reckless driving charge is paired with a slew of other high-level violations, prosecutors will often drop the reckless driving charge to devote more resources to the more serious crime.
Drag racing, on the other hand, is a more specific cargo. Not only do police have to physically arrest an individual suspect — an already difficult task made more difficult by the Memphis Police Department’s pursuit policies — witnesses are still needed to testify about the driver’s intent to get a drag race conviction. to secure.
When it comes to physically seizing an assailant’s car, agents are also limited there, Weirich said. Cars cannot be impounded until there is a conviction for drag racing. Furthermore, the perpetrator must be the sole owner of the car, Weirich said.
“And last but not least, the police need to locate that car,” Weirich said.
Offenders also have the legal opportunity to dump their car if they know a drag race conviction is possible, whether they sell the car or have a family member or friend detained.
After detailing the number of factors to be tuned for drag racing convictions, Weirich said the best opportunities for true drag racing deterrents should come from a review of the highly technical state statute for what is considered drag racing.
“It’s the very rare, if ever, case where law enforcement officers come up on individuals and a white flag and a line of drivers, like we see in the movies. And conversation and chat [about] “Let’s see how fast this car can go the next 100 feet,” Weirich said.
One possible solution to the level of dangerous drivers of Memphis and Shelby County, she said, is twofold.
State lawmakers could upgrade the charge of reckless driving and drag racing. Reckless driving is currently a Class B offence.
“Turn it into an ‘E’ felony. Turn it into an ‘A’ felony. Make reckless driving a more serious felony in Tennessee,” Weirich said.
As she has done in previous speaking engagements since announcing her re-election bid this year, Weirich offered her input on how the state legislature might intervene specifically.
What could be most helpful in reducing horsepower levels, Weirich said, is an amendment to state law that would allow police to immediately impound a vehicle belonging to a driver caught doing a dangerous job. driving behaviour.
Two city council members, Worth Morgan and Chase Carlisle, filed follow-up questions to the attorney general regarding the restrictions on the Memphis and Shelby County government agencies.
Carlisle promised to follow Weirich’s “very concrete suggestions”.
“I personally intend to pick up the phone and call our local state-level representatives and see what we can do in this general assembly in this current session, to try to move the state law to try and address some of these violators. accountable,” Carlisle said.
Micaela Watts is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.