When Brett Ligon campaigned for the office of Montgomery County District Attorney, he promised change. Mr. Ligon took the oath of office on January 1, 2009 and immediately began fulfilling that promise.
For years Montgomery County had the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of drunk driving automobile fatalities. Many drivers with third or more Driving While Intoxicated convictions were still on the streets, having received only probation for a crime that could have carried a prison sentence.
Determined to combat what had grown into a tremendous problem for citizens, an embarrassment for county officials, and a major source of frustration for law enforcement, Mr. Ligon knew drastic measures were required. As a result, he recruited someone considered a heavy hitter in the area of DWI prosecution in Harris County.
Warren Diepraam, who has the state’s highest rate of conviction in DWI cases, joined Ligon’s administration as Chief Prosecutor over the Vehicular Crimes Division.
As a Harris County Assistant District Attorney, Diepraam was assigned to the Police Integrity Division, prosecuting hundreds of cases ranging from Sexual Assault to Capital Murder, and, of course Driving While Intoxicated. Diepraam has the distinction of securing the longest sentence for an Intoxicated Manslaughter first offender in the history of the Harris County Court system. Mr. Diepraam was also the state’s first prosecutor to successfully prosecute a Felony Murder case against someone with three prior DWI convictions.
Over the past few years, Mr. Diepraam has traveled the country educating police officers and inexperienced assistant district attorneys regarding Driving While Intoxicated law and prosecution. He has carefully assembled a team of prosecutors at home who are young and willing to help put an end to the DWI carnage that plagues Montgomery County.
Few were surprised when Diepraam was chosen as one of three panelists at a “DWI Summit,” sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest beer distributer. Anheuser-Busch characterized the event as a huge step in their trying to help law enforcement curtail the deadly practice of drinking and driving.
The Summit was broadcast via satellite to Budweiser distributors in three states and 31 cities, in conjunction with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation.
Much of it began during the Montgomery County Labor Day No-Refusal weekend. A film crew traced the steps of the law enforcement officers on the streets to document DWI stops and arrests, as well as filming on scene reports directly from Diepraam.
Last week all of the efforts culminated in an event at Silver Eagle Distributors here in Conroe. Local law enforcement and prosecutors watched a 4-hour presentation on a giant screen, leaving them better informed about things to look for and do when stopping a suspected intoxicated driver. They also learned how to follow through and build a solid DWI case for prosecution.
Montgomery County District Attorney Bret Ligon said Warren Diepraam has been described by others as “the mad scientist of DWI detection, suppression and prosecution.”
“Warren’s efforts are actually unique, not only in this county, but I think people are beginning to realize that we have a resource here within Montgomery County that the rest of the state is starting to grab on to,” Ligon said.
According to Mr. Ligon, DWI fatalities have dropped (with the early numbers in) 30 to 40 percent. Ligon said, “We continue to tell people this is the most important crime occurring in Montgomery County.”
“We’re only going to have about 15 murders a year, but our DWI fatalities involving drugs and alcohol run in the sixties and seventies,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that you are three to four times more likely to die from a traffic related fatality involving drugs or alcohol than you are in an aggravated crime.”
This, Mr. Ligon said, is one of the reasons the District Attorney’s Office spends so many resources to combat the county’s DWI crisis.
The District Attorney has put many tools in the hands of law enforcement since his election, such as a Hawk-Eye System which videos eye movements during a DWI field test. He has also implemented No-Refusal Weekends through the end of the year- hiring nurses to draw blood, which saves the time it otherwise takes officers to go to a hospital for the same process.
Additionally, Mr. Ligon purchased a system for area DPS Troopers to investigate and more accurately document crash scenes. Furthermore, he has brought in Houston Police Department’s infamous “BAT” van to process DWI’s in the field on No Refusal Weekends, drastically reducing the time between the traffic stop and tests for intoxication.