Police, advocates: Don’t toss DUI cases for imperfect video

COLUMBIA — A Senate panel is working to lessen the dependence on officer dash-cam footage in drunken driving cases.

Proponents of the measure say state law needs to be amended to clarify that cases of alleged drunken drivers shouldn’t be thrown out because of bad video from dash cams.

The issue is mainly happening in the magistrate courts of smaller counties, where prosecutors aren’t readily available, said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association. The shortage places law enforcement officers in the role of prosecutors pitted against professional attorneys.

“We’re left fighting it on our own,” Bruder said.

An actual prosecutor would likely challenge the move for dismissal of the case, and instead simply ask for suppression of the video as a piece of evidence, added Laura Hudson, executive director of the Crime Victims Council.

“I know we are losing a lot of opportunities to get people who are impaired off our roads,” Hudson said. “We’re not treating the video as just a piece of evidence.”

But several defense attorneys who spoke at the hearing said they didn’t see the need to change the law for something that rarely happens.

“I don’t really see that there’s a great problem,” said Charleston DUI defense attorney Drew Carroll, adding that conviction rates support the idea that the law is working as it should.

Carroll said he made conviction rate requests through the Freedom of Information Act, and found that the Mount Pleasant Police Department had an 80 percent conviction rate with DUI and driving with unlawful alcohol concentration cases.

DUI defense attorney James Huff added that law enforcement officers should be better trained to ensure that the person they’ve pulled over doesn’t wander away from the camera.

“This is already a minor issue that is easy to correct,” Huff said. “I think the citizens have a right that if officers are going to use field sobriety testing that it be fully recorded.”

The panel adjourned without taking any action. Panel chairman Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said the bill will not advance fast enough to become law by the end of this session in June, leaving lawmakers with enough time to fully vet the proposal through the 2016 session.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.