A recent lengthy article in the Charleston Post and Courier discussed how the state’s law enforcement officials struggle to convict drunk drivers due to a bizarre requirement not seen in other states. The laws in South Carolina are clear that police must submit video evidence showcasing drunk driving arrest procedures. Without this evidence and without it being complete, courts have continually tossed out drunk driving charges.
The issue surfaced and gained renewed attention recently after a police officer in downtown Charleston chose to ticket a clearly intoxicated woman who was found sitting behind the wheel of her car with disorderly conduct rather than drunk driving. Police officials say that even though the woman fulfilled the legal requirement of drunk driving (meaning she was in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence), the arresting officer did not have a video camera immediately available to record the woman’s arrest and drunk driving testing.
In South Carolina, the law says that any and all DUI field sobriety tests, arrests and chemical or breath tests that are performed at the police station must be videotaped. The law also does not allow police officers to use portable breath testing equipment, instead requiring the suspect to be tested once he or she has been detained and brought to the precinct.
Though the video recording requirement may seem unimportant, experts say that in South Carolina it is crucial to securing a conviction and, without it, chances are a judge will toss the case out. One high-profile example of this came in 2008, when a state senator was arrested and charged with DUI. A judge ultimately threw out his case after his DUI lawyer noted that there was a gap in the audio recording.
South Carolina has a far higher burden of video recording than any other state, something that has been a boon to some drunk driving offenders and a pain to prosecutors. In another case, a drunk driving charge was tossed after the driver took too many steps past the video camera and walked out of frame. In another instance, the video was too dark and defense lawyers successfully argued it was too dark to see the suspect’s eyes.
Defense lawyers in South Carolina say that the very first thing they look for is defects in the video record of the arrest. Flaws such as not showing the person’s full body when performing a sobriety test can be enough to get a charge thrown out. In a 2011 Supreme Court case, a conviction against a man was overturned after the tape in the officer’s camera ran out.
MADD and other groups have complained about the high burden of proof for officers in South Carolina and have tried passing bills that would do away with the requirement. Just last year lawmakers attempted to pass a bill that would make clear video recordings did not need to be 100 percent perfect to be admitted into evidence. However, the measure failed and, for the foreseeable future, the video recording requirement will remain in force.
Source: “State’s DUI laws can make convictions difficult,” by Dave Munday, published at PostandCourier.com.