City and State partnership creates Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor position within city’s Legal Department
Position aims to prevent, detect, enforce and prosecute traffic cases, mainly DUI
Contact: Sarah Erkmann
Anchorage – In cooperation with the State Highway Safety Office, the Municipality of Anchorage recently created a grant-funded position within its legal department, called a Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor (TSRP). The main function of a TSRP is to create a support network aimed at preventing, detecting, enforcing and prosecuting traffic cases, mainly DUI.
TSRPs are utilized to provide whatever is needed to increase traffic safety, which varies depending on local needs. They work cooperatively with prosecutors, law enforcement officers, crime lab officials, lawmakers, defense attorneys, judges and community leaders to create an effective network of support to achieve traffic safety goals.
The Municipality and the State identified the need for a TSRP due, in part, to the following statistics:
_ The Municipal Prosecutor’s office handles more DUI cases each year than the entire rest of the state combined.
_ There are only five general trial attorneys who are tasked with prosecuting about one DUI case each hour, and they receive no formal training.
_ The Legal Department handles more DUI cases than perhaps any other charge. It makes up the bulk of its caseload, yet is not equipped to handle them appropriately.
_ In 2008, more than 12,000 people were killed in alcohol crashes in the U.S.
_ One person is killed by an alcohol impaired driver every 12-20 minutes. (One person is killed every 30 minutes by all other weapons combined).
_ In Alaska, in 2007, 43 percent of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol.
_ Most studies reveal that up to 50 percent of all intoxicated drivers are impaired on drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.
In Anchorage, the TSRP will arrange training and education to all assistant prosecuting attorneys to improve their ability to effectively screen, evaluate and prosecute Operating Under the Influence (OUI) cases, at a minimal cost. The need to train prosecutors in recognizing signs of impairment due to prescription or illegal drug abuse, how to conduct field sobriety tests properly, and trial preparation is essential to assuring success at trial. Understanding the processes prepares a prosecutor for trial, gives him/her confidence and prevents sentence reductions and dismissals. Prosecutors also need training in how to prepare for trial including jury selection, rules of evidence and cross-examination.
The TSRP also will train APD Officers. Effective, strong cases start with the officers who make arrests. If proper training about how to put together a solid DUI case is not provided, even the most experienced and educated prosecutor isn’t able to salvage it.
Police refresher training should result in fewer sentence declines, reductions and dismissals and more DUI/OUI convictions. If officers understand the legal reasons behind requests regarding issues like Miranda, phone calls, DRE exams, and use of portable breathalyzers, they are more likely to act in accordance with the requests. Courtroom testimony also is an area of focus for the TSRP. An officer’s credibility in court is essential to many DUI cases, whether at motion practice or trial.
“This is an important development for our community,” said Mayor Dan Sullivan. “The public has been vocal about the need to make our roads safer as the recent spate of deadly accidents involving alcohol has so sadly illustrated. The TSRP is a welcome addition to City Hall and I look forward to seeing great results.”
The TSRP position was created after the city received $80,000 in federal grant funding through the State. The grant, combined with reallocated municipal funds, allowed for a part-time position. The employee in this position will work half of the time prosecuting only DUI cases and the other half as a TSRP for the city.
The TSRP, Jennifer Messick, began work in her new role on Dec. 7. Messick’s background includes 4.5 years as an Assistant Municipal Prosecutor during which time she has shown special interest in DUI cases and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training by attending and facilitating several conferences on DUI and highway safety, serving as a panel participant for the Alaska Impaired Driving Assessment and the International Association of Chemical Testing. She has promoted community education by working cooperatively with APD to develop DUI curriculum and present it at a variety of forums. She has also assisted APD with training new police officers in the last several academies and has written and administered grants which facilitate DUI education, prevention and prosecutor training.