COLUMBIA, SC — Things just got a little tougher for South Carolina’s drunk drivers.
The State Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that in two related opinions involving separate DUI suspects who had their cases dismissed in trial court because of technicalities involving videotaping the suspect, the trial judges who dismissed the cases were wrong, justices decided.
“Thank you, Supreme Court,” said S.C. Mothers Against Drunk Driving official Laura Hudson, who said the decision will mean that more people charged with DUI will be tried instead of having their cases dismissed on a technicality.
The disputes involved a state law that requires arresting officers in DUI cases to videotape a suspect for 20 minutes before giving him or her a breath test.
However, the two cases – a DUI 2nd offense out of Chester County and a DUI 1st offense from Richland – involved two suspects who after several minutes decided not to take the breath test.
In those cases, the officers then stopped videotaping, reasoning that because the suspects had refused to take the test, there was no need to keep the video on just for the sake of keeping the camera rolling.
But trial court judges – a circuit judge in Chester County and a magistrate in Richland County – interpreted the state law that mentioned the 20-minute rule as strictly requiring an officer to keep on videotaping for a full 20 minutes, whether or not the DUI suspect had refused the breath test.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that once a defendant has refused to take a breath test, “the statute did not require the arresting officer to continue to videotape the 20-minute pre-test waiting period ….”
To require an officer to continue videotaping after the DUI suspect refused to take the test, the high court ruled, “would result in the officer having to undergo a useless and absurd act,” the high court said, using identical language in both opinions.
Hudson said she doesn’t have any statistics on how many DUI cases are dismissed from S.C. courts each year because an officer didn’t comply with the 20-minute rule as strictly interpreted.
However, Hudson said, she has heard enough anecdotes from officers around the state to know that it is an obstacle to bringing otherwise good DUI cases.
Having an officer spending 20 minutes videotaping a suspect after the suspect has made it clear he’s going to refuse the test wastes the officer’s time, she said.
“It allows an officer to get back on the road,” Hudson said. “This is all about having public safety and getting those people who are impaired off the road, and this will help with that.”
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