Are Impaired Drivers Getting off Easy in SC?

Are Impaired Drivers Getting off Easy in SC?

If you or a loved one is hit in a motor vehicle accident caused by a drunk or drugged driver, you might not receive the justice you deserve when the case comes to court. South Carolina DUI law contains an extremely strict provision requiring virtually every moment of a DUI arrest to be videotaped by a police officer’s bodycam or dashcam. The smallest missing recorded moment can be enough for a judge to throw out the case. As a result, prosecutors are having a harder time winning cases even when deputies state that the driver was clearly impaired. They characterize the strictness as a kind of loophole.

S.C.’s Distressing Number of DUI Deaths

We have a lot of drunk drivers, it seems. DUI-caused deaths in our state totaled 331 in 2016. When compared with the number of residents we have, the number of fatalities earns us the unhappy distinction of being third in the nation, meaning that you are more likely to die in a DUI-related crash in S.C. than in 47 other U.S. states. Even though South Carolina has less than half the population of North Carolina, we experienced only 23 fewer DUI-related deaths—331 versus 354. Our DUI death rate per 100,000 residents is 6.59 persons. Only Montana and North Dakota had worse rankings.

Our neighboring states ranked much lower in DUI death risks: Georgia was 23rd, North Carolina was 24th, and Tennessee was 28th. Florida came in at 16th.

What Happens Because of the DUI Law?

Drunk drivers can skate because the law is so difficult to comply with. One assistant solicitor had to prepare arguments meant to convince the judge why a video should be admitted into evidence, all because part of the arrest was not recorded. A different prosecutor in Greenville said he had a case dismissed in 2018 because, even though the dash-cam captured the audio of the suspect being read his Miranda rights, the suspect could not be seen on that portion of the video.

Prosecutors are often forced to offer plea deals for lesser charges like reckless driving because technical glitches mean the judge may throw out the case—all because South Carolina’s DUI law statute is one of the most rigid in the nation. Assistant Solicitor for the 13th Circuit Jennifer Tessitore says, of the statute’s demand that the entire arrest procedure must appear on video, “It’s just a really odd and unreasonable requirement.”

MADD is Mad

A report released in late August, 2018, by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) criticized the conviction rates for DUIs in the Columbia and Greenville areas. When it looked at court outcomes for hundreds of DUI cases, MADD discovered that fewer than half of them resulted in convictions for drunk driving.

MADD’s analysis claims that the Columbia area has a conviction rate of 48 percent and a “plead-down” rate of 48 percent. In the Greenville area, among the more than 1,200 cases studied, approximately 49 percent of misdemeanor DUIs were pled down. Only 45 percent of such cases resulted in conviction, a rate that is much lower than for other crimes. 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins insists that the state requirements for video evidence are a key hurdle to winning a conviction: “Our ability to (prosecute) is hindered by this current statute. It makes it more difficult than it could, or that is allowed by other states.”

In their report, MADD also called on state leaders to reduce S.C.’s drunk driving deaths.

DUI Law in South Carolina

In South Carolina, the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) is below .08. Under Emma’s Law, if the driver showed a BAC of .15 or more after testing, they must install an ignition interlock device on any vehicle they drive, for a period of six months. This is true even for a first-time DUI conviction. In addition, first-time offenders with a BAC of .08 to .14 may elect to use an interlock in order to drive with no geographic restrictions in lieu of a license suspension.

A first-time DUI conviction can carry fines of hundreds of dollars and even jail time in addition to any license suspension. Penalties escalate with each subsequent conviction.