I agree with Patrick McLaughlin on one key point: It is a good thing that South Carolina requires video-recording of DUI-related traffic stops (“The value of our DUI video law,” Nov. 6). This is necessary for the protection of police officers and the citizens they stop.
But while the intention of the statute making this mandatory is laudable, the actual results it achieves are outrageous.
Under S.C. Code Section 56-5-2953, “any field sobriety test administered” by an investigating officer must be recorded. When coupled with other provisions of law, the word “any” functions in a hyper-technical manner. For example, one of the most commonly administered field sobriety tests is the “walk and turn” test, where a person is asked to take nine steps forward, turn around and take nine steps back. Sometimes a suspect’s feet may go off camera for part of the test. When the case comes to court, the defendant will argue that the state did not record his feet for a few seconds, and therefore failed to record “any field sobriety test administered.”
In this case the statute is clear: A DUI defendant is entitled to dismissal of his charge in the event that the state does not comply with 56-5-2953. A person could wreck his vehicle, have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.24 percent (three times the legal limit) and be unable to walk a straight line, but if his feet step off camera for a brief moment during a field sobriety test, his case will be dismissed.
Prosecutors do not want the video-recording statute removed from our law, nor do we simply want “easier convictions,” as Mr. McLaughlin claims. What we want is justice. We believe that jurors are perfectly capable of determining if a recording omission is significant during their assessment of the defendant’s impairment. Trivial recording errors should not require the dismissal of the case. These videos are made under difficult circumstances by police officers on the side of the road, not by Steven Spielberg on a soundstage.
This statute is broken, and as a result our streets are not safe. Please call your legislators and ask them to support changing Section 56-5-2953. Under our system of law, cases should be decided by juries, not by a suspect’s feet sliding off camera for a few seconds.
Kevin S. Brackett
Solicitor, 16th Circuit