SC Supreme Court Issues Order To Counties To Expedite DUI DUAC Dockets
South Carolina drunk driving charges are a serious matter. In addition to a criminal record, motorists charged with and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) face up to a month in jail and nearly $1,000 in fines. And those are just the criminal consequences, because a DUI record will also result in higher insurance rates, license suspension of up to six months and notoriety within an offender's community and at work.But like any other criminal justice process, drivers accused of DUI or driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC) are entitled to due process and a speedy resolution in court. South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal sent out notices on March 21 to magistrate and municipal court administrators statewide mandating that DUI and DUAC cases must be tried within 120 days of a drunk driving arrest, or 60 days if the alleged offender does not request a jury trial. The order is based on a finding that "the prompt and efficient disposition of driving under the influence and driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration cases in the magistrate and municipal courts requires that cases, jury and non-jury, be called for trial." The case backlog at the time of the order was considerable, as shown by some local examples that were beyond the 60- and 120-day limits:
- Lexington County had 578 pending DUI and DUAC cases among over 34,000 criminal cases
- Richland County had 848 pending DUI and DUAC cases - the highest total in the state - among over 12,500 criminal cases
- Columbia Municipal Court had 223 pending cases
- Charleston Municipal Court had 436 pending cases
The statewide total approaches 12,000 cases, and the list of pending cases in Lexington County reveals DUI cases dating as far back as 1992. Pressure to expedite cases came from the Department of Public Safety, which was concerned about burdens on state troopers' time caused by unresolved drunk driving prosecutions.
"I don't point the finger at any one factor ... I think resources has a lot to do with it," Chief Justice Toal told The Post and Courier soon after the order was issued. The order mandates that all pending DUI and DUAC cases be set for trial within 120 days, and a report indicating substantial compliance must be issued within 125 days.
Clients Deserve Prompt Resolutions When They Face Criminal Accusations
One of the implications of the SC Supreme Court order for drivers accused of drunk driving is positive: requiring South Carolina's courts to clear DUI dockets will likely result in case dismissals in some counties where the backlog is particularly long. One county magistrate estimated that he will have to drop 600 of 700 pending cases.
On the other hand, in cases where the prosecution must depend on an officer's recollection of events to prove intoxication or a proper basis for pulling over a vehicle, delayed adjudication may reduce the effectiveness of witness testimony. Drivers accused of DUI or DUAC whose cases have fallen through the cracks are well advised to consult with a South Carolina DUI defense lawyer to assess their status.
Obviously, going through life under the threat of a looming criminal conviction is not something most clients would choose. In many cases, improper administration of breath tests, blood tests or field sobriety tests can lead to an arrest where none was warranted. An experienced DWI attorney can review the arrest record, listen to your side of the story and explain your legal options.
The stakes are progressively higher for drivers who face a second or third drunk driving offense. If an allegedly intoxicated driver was involved in an accident causing great bodily injury or death, a felony DUI charge is likely and the defendant faces as much as 25 years in prison.
A DUI defense lawyer's ability to investigate all circumstances leading up to and following an arrest can make a crucial difference in an individual's future. An attorney's familiarity with the procedural aspects of criminal justice is just as important. As South Carolina's DUI/DUAC backlog is eventually resolved, clients will have all the more reason to mount an aggressive defense against drunk driving charges.