Influx of Maricopa County DUI cases overwhelms county attorney's office as victims wait for justice

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) is moving forward and making progress in clearing a mountain of backlogged cases, including 800 DUI cases, however, a number of new cases continue to inundate prosecutors.

Belinda Welch is the mother of a DUI victim and says "it's like the accident is still occurring every day."

Her son, 23-year-old Jeremiah Washington, was injured in a June DUI crash back, and as a result, he lost both of his legs below the knee. Meanwhile, the suspected DUI driver, Jerry Hernandez, is out of jail on bond, awaiting trial.

"He’s walking free. My son can’t walk, he has no legs," Welch says.

Interim county attorney Rachel Mitchell details the situation the office is in regarding the number of cases.

"We have more than 180 cases currently set for trial involving manslaughter or aggravated assault," she said.

Prosecutors have been able to tackle the 800 backlogged DUI cases over the last several months, but the rate of new DUI  cases is overwhelming, she says. Just in the past two weeks, Mitchell says more than 400 DUI cases have been submitted to the county attorney’s office for review.

"Well, my son is overwhelmed too," Welch said. "No family should have to wait that long for justice. Especially for a DUI."

Fifteen prosecutors are assigned to Maricopa County’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau. Mitchell says DUI cases that result in serious injury or death do take longer than other cases to investigate, especially when investigators have to re-create the crash.

"We have one chance to hold somebody accountable. Double jeopardy doesn’t allow us to do it again," Mitchell said. "I’m not going to sacrifice accuracy and a well-prepared case for the sake of speed."