OCDA DESIGNATED AS LEAD TRAINING AGENCY FOR DRUG-IMPAIRED DRIVING VERTICAL PROSECUTION WITH $1 MILLION GRANT

Date: November 15, 2016

OCDA DESIGNATED AS LEAD TRAINING AGENCY FOR DRUG-IMPAIRED DRIVING VERTICAL PROSECUTION WITH $1 MILLION GRANT

SANTA ANA, Calif. – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) has been designated the lead training agency in the area of drug-impaired driving through the acceptance of a $1,078,044 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) for the Vertical Prosecution Program. The year-long grant will be used to expand the specialized team of prosecutors focused on driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) cases in all regions of Orange County. OCDA will also serve as the lead agency in the newly established Southern California Traffic Safety Training Network (SoCal Training Net), which involves a training collaboration between the OCDA, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office, San Diego City Attorney’s Office, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, and Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.

In 2008, the OCDA created the first Vehicular Homicide vertical prosecution unit in the State of California. This team of specialized prosecutors and investigators vertically prosecute traffic fatality cases, following them from the initial crash scene through sentencing. OCDA observed a disturbing trend in impaired driving cases as a result of numerous tragedies involving drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol. As a result, the OCDA applied for a collaborative grant through OTS in 2010. This grant continues to be funded today and involves a three-part collaboration between the OCDA, the Orange County Crime Lab, and the Fullerton Police Department. It is a comprehensive grant that helps each agency to independently strengthen its own function in the area of drug-impaired driving cases.

Since 2011, Orange County has received over $4 million from OTS for the creation and expansion of this unique DUID model. The model, which has been referred to as the “Gold Standard” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), focuses on the investigation, testing, and prosecution of DUID cases. This funding has allowed the OCDA to train over 25 prosecutors to become subject matter experts in the field of DUID cases.  

“The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has done an outstanding job targeting an emerging menace on our roadways – the drug-impaired driver,” said Rhonda Craft, Director of the Office of Traffic Safety. “Their efforts are helping Orange County meet its future mobility, safety, and sustainability objectives by creating safer roadways for all users.”

“I want to thank the Office of Traffic Safety for recognizing the continuous outstanding work by OCDA prosecutors, the Orange County Crime Lab and our law enforcement partners. With this grant, we have the means to aggressively prosecute impaired drivers with a team of specialized prosecutors,” stated District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. “Impaired driving tragically ends the lives of both victims and perpetrators. This crime is 100 percent preventable. This program is especially important due to the increasing prevalence of marijuana and prescription drug use in our communities.”

During the 2015-2016 grant cycle, the OCDA DUID team reviewed 1,086 DUID cases and filed 969 of those cases. The team also completed a number of grant objectives including education and outreach on impaired driving to over 1,000 school-aged and university students, attendance at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim impact panel, participation in a ride-along or check point at a local police agency, participation in attending and providing training to law enforcement officers in the area of drug-impaired driving, and working collaboratively with the crime lab in their effort to collect and advance the science in these cases.

This year, the eight prosecutors assigned to the vertical prosecution team are Deputy District Attorneys (DDA) Camille Phillipe and Kate Wagner of West Justice Center, Ryan Lumm and Raquel Cooper of Central Justice Center, Matt Plunkett and Jake Jondle of North Justice Center, and Anthony Schlehner and Sherin Larijani of Harbor Justice Center.  DDA Brian Orue has been selected to head up the SoCal Training Net as part of the Appellate and Training team at OCDA. These prosecutors will work under the guidance of Susan Price, Assistant Head of Court for the Appellate and Training Unit, and Nicole Nicholson, Assistant Head of Court at Harbor Justice Center, to continue our efforts in DUID prosecutions. 

Funding for this program was provided by a grant from OTS through the National Highway Safety Administration.