A new study released by the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving found that each South Carolina county it reviewed either dismissed or pleaded down more than half of its DUI cases the past two years.
The study released this week found that, among arrests from January 2016 to May 2017, only 42 percent of the concluded Greenville County cases ended with a conviction for DUI or similar charge. Another 47 percent were pleaded down to a lesser charge, often reckless driving. In Richland County, the numbers were 48 percent for each category. In Pickens County, the conviction rate was only 36 percent but the report noted there had only been slightly more than two dozen cases.
MADD’s national court monitoring report shows a combined conviction rate of 61% among 13 participating states. Spokesman Steven Burritt (BUR-it) said South Carolina DUI laws have dozens of loopholes or requirements which can trip up a case, including that the entire sobriety test or arrest be on video.
“Within (the law), there are so many places where the officer must do exactly the right thing,” Burritt said. “It must be on video, it must be captured correctly. And, what we find all over the state, there can be instances of glares, shadows, the audio cutting out, and things happening slightly off-camera… In South Carolina, unlike other states, we put so much emphasis on the video.”
Burritt noted one Upstate case where charges were dropped after a judge learned that an officer did not give a suspect their “Miranda rights” on dashcam video. Although the conversation occurred off-screen, and audio of the officer reading the rights could be heard, the case was dismissed.
Some of those loopholes got statewide attention earlier this year when DUI charges were dismissed against State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley. Campbell was arrested last year after a Highway Patrol trooper suspected the senator had been driving drunk when his car hit another vehicle (Campbell insisted his wife had been driving). After Campbell failed a roadside sobriety test, the trooper brought him to the Charleston County jail for a Breathalyzer test. Campbell blew a 0.09, just above the state’s legal limit. However, a magistrate tossed the charge because the trooper did not also give Campbell a blood test when the lawmaker requested it.
Burritt said South Carolina is one of the few states where the arresting officer acts as prosecutor for DUI cases.
He said the lack of prosecutors, myriad loopholes and lax regulations for arrested drivers to get a temporary license between their arrest and trial likely contribute to South Carolina’s high DUI fatality rate compared to the national average. MADD said South Carolina’s 334 DUI-related deaths in 2016 (the most recent year available) were more than 43 other states, including many with larger populations than the Palmetto State.