South Carolina’s highest court said a Goose Creek officer had the ability to detain a suspected drunk driver even if that driver crashed outside of the officer’s jurisdiction.
That’s the ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court last week. The unanimous decision helps clear up the authority of law enforcement who respond to calls outside of their municipality.
According to court arguments, the case began when the officer responded to calls about a vehicle in a ditch in 2013. After arriving, he found Jennifer Alexander’s car in the ditch along U.S. Highway 176. While the roadway was within the city limits, the ditch was not. The officer Chad Hadden then radioed to his dispatch asking for a state Highway Patrol trooper, since he suspected Alexander was intoxicated but did not believe he had the authority to arrest her.
While Alexander was not handcuffed or restrained, the court documents make it clear Hadden would not allow her to leave the scene.
After the trooper arrived, Alexander was given a sobriety test and charged with DUI after she failed. However, a magistrate judge dismissed the charge, ruling the officer did not have the authority to detain Alexander while waiting 15 minutes for the trooper. The state appeals court agreed, ruling a state law which allows officers to leave their jurisdictions for “distress calls” did not apply to this particular case.
However, the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice John Kittredge wrote that 911 dispatch sent Hadden to the scene believing it to be inside city limits and that Haddon was within his power to check the crashed car for potential life-threatening injuries. “Under the particular facts of this case, Officer Hadden’s response was to a distress call or request for assistance,” Kittredge wrote. “When an officer responds to a situation under these circumstances, the officer’s authority is extended to the adjacent jurisdiction.”
The ruling means state troopers can once again charge Alexander in magistrate court for the DUI offense.