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No Film in the Camera: South Carolina’s Murky DUI Laws

DUISC Police Are Not Required to Take Video of DUI Suspects, Says SC Supreme Court

On May 29th, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that police are not required to film DUI suspects after they refuse to take a breathalyzer test.

The decision came after much controversy around a law put on the books in 2006, that required police officers to videotape DUI suspects for about 20 minutes while they administered the breathalyzer test. Because the law was unclear, many officers turned the camera off when the DUI suspect refused a breathalyzer. However, because the law is unclear, many judges have dismissed DUI cases if the video was shut off, ruling that officers had not followed proper procedure.

After a great deal of back and forth, legislators did eventually change the wording of law – however, rather than clarifying when the tape could be turned off, they updated the wording of the law to say “video recording” rather than “videotape,” to reflect changes in technology.

On Wednesday, May 29th, the state’s Supreme Court decided a ruling based on the 2006 version of the law in two DUI cases that occurred before the updated wording in 2008. One case was a second offense DUI, and the other was a first offense DUI. The outcome is most important, however, because the state’s highest court disagreed with a slew of lower court judges who ruled that cases could be thrown out if the arresting officer turned the camera off.

“Once an arrestee refuses the breath test, the evidence gathering portion is over,” Jean Toal, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, said in a written opinion. “If no test is administered, then the waiting period is rendered unnecessary, and so then is the videotape recording of that waiting period.”

Arguments About DUI Technicality Continue

Some people believe that the Supreme Court’s ruling, whether it is based on an outdated version of the law or not, allows for local prosecutors to go after drunk drivers and DUI suspects without allowing them a loophole of technicality.

“Thank you, Supreme Court,” said South Carolina Mothers Against Drunk Driving official Laura Hudson. She believes that the Supreme Court’s DUI decision closes the filming technicality loophole.

“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.”

Chief Justice Jean Toal added that forcing officers to continue filming after the DUI suspect refused a breathalyzer test “would result in the officer having to undergo a useless and absurd act.”

However, since the Supreme Court admitted openly that they based their ruling on an outdated version of the law, prosecutors say that they have left open a “technological loophole.”

“It does leave an argument, and that’s not good,” said Greg Hembree, a state senator and former solicitor for Horry and Georgetown counties. “A legislative remedy is the cleanest way to close whatever question there might be.”

“Twenty minutes of conduct is more valuable than one minute of a [test] refusal,” said Joseph McCulloch, a Columbia-based lawyer. “It shouldn’t be about whether it’s inconvenient to police. It’s about giving the jury the best evidence they can have, which is the video.

The Strom Law Firm Can Help with DUI Charges

If you face DUI charges, whether it is your first charge, or felony DUI, you could feel alone and afraid. Just because you have received DUI charges does not automatically mean that you are guilty. The attorneys at the Strom Law Firm have helped people who face DUI charges since 1996. We offer free, confidential consultations so you can discuss the facts of your case with impunity. Contact us for help today. 803.252.4800

About Pete Strom

Defending criminal charges including drug crimes, DUI, CDV, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, computer crimes, money laundering, and juvenile crimes, Pete also handles Federal and State investigations. Representing individuals in Civil Matters including Class Actions, Personal Injury, Qui Tam Actions, Defective Products, Nursing Home Neglect, and Professional Licensing Defense cases. Joseph Preston “Pete” Strom, Jr., the managing partner at Strom Law Firm, L.L.C., has been fighting for justice since 1984.

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