Members of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association, prosecutors and victim’s advocates from across the state gathered Tuesday on the State House grounds to call upon the General Assembly to reform certain provisions of the state’s DUI laws.
Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the sheriff’s association, said it has become nearly impossible to prosecute an individual charged with DUI successfully because of stringent video requirements.
During the media conference, officials presented four videos that showed suspected drunk drivers who were able to beat or appeal their DUI charges. Judges throughout the state have dismissed suspects’ charges because their feet were not visible during heel-to-toe sobriety tests or a shadow was cast over the suspect’s face, blocking the face from being seen, according to Bruder.
“We believe the General Assembly made a strong push to implement dash cameras in traffic patrol cars with the intent to help the prosecution of impaired driving,” Bruder said. “Unfortunately, the exact opposite has happened, and the smallest omission or obstruction in a video is serving as an excuse to completely dismiss the DUI charge.”
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would prevent a DUI case from being completely dismissed if a small technical problem exists in the video recording of the initial investigation.
Kevin Brackett, the 16th circuit solicitor, said law enforcement and prosecutors are not against video recordings as evidence. But, Brackett said it should be left to a jury to decide if the video has enough evidence to prosecute a suspect in a DUI case.
“It’s wonderful evidence,” Brackett said. “It helps us to make sure that the right thing is done in the cases, and it protects the officer if there is some accusation of wrong doing on their part. But, the jury should be able to decide, ‘Is there enough evidence on that videotape to convince me that this person was impaired?’”
York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said when he began his career in law enforcement, officers were held accountable and their word was taken seriously in court. But, in today’s visually geared world, an officer’s word must be backed by video recordings.
“Professional police officers are making DUI arrests only to have the charges thrown out because of video limitations,” Bryant said. “This defies both reason and good sense in our DUI cases.”
Steven Burritt, the program director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in South Carolina, the reforms of the bill will be a systematic fix for an ongoing systematic problem.
“(Families) had to listen as someone got off on a technicality because a foot was obscured by a car hood or a shadow fell across something when they were trying to get something done.,” Burritt said. “It would be a second victimization that I just couldn’t accept.”