Police departments across the country have been increasing their reliance on cameras, either dashboard-mounted or personal cameras attached to uniforms, to use as evidence in driving under the influence (DUI) cases.
South Carolina is no exception. However, recently there has developed a debate surrounding whether these police videos should be deemphasized or not in court cases, specifically in light of the issues that police have had in properly recording suspects during traffic stops.
Since 1998, South Carolina law has required that law enforcement officers turn on cameras as soon as they initiate a traffic stop, and that the taping should continue throughout the course of the field sobriety test to determine whether the driver is in fact sober or drunk. Whether or not these videos always accurately portray field sobriety tests is questionable, though.
The View of Prosecutors in South Carolina
South Carolina prosecutors who have dealt extensively in DUI cases feel that many cases are harmed by poor videos that, rather than help to show a clear view of what occurred during an arrest, actually create confusion in court that leads to acquittals in cases in which the prosecutors believe that they have otherwise obtained a conviction.
Prosecutors in the state have complained that judges have thrown out cases for the following reasons:
- Malfunctioning audio;
- The suspect temporarily walks out of the view of the camera;
- The driver’s one foot obscured the other as he performed a “heel-to-toe” walking test; or
- The suspect’s feet not being entirely visible during a test requiring the driver to walk in a straight line.
Prosecutors and law enforcement argue that the evidence from videos is being interpreted too strictly, and that minor issues, such as malfunctioning audio, should not lead to a case being thrown out completely if other evidence, such as testimony or other physical evidence, can support a case.
One prosecutor found that the number of DUI arrests has dropped dramatically from 2014. He found that DUI arrests that resulted convictions in 2014 were about 60 percent, while in 2015 only a third of DUI arrests resulted in convictions. The decline in convictions may be due to the number of cases being thrown out based on inadmissible video evidence.
The View of the Defense Bar
Defense lawyers alternatively find that the law is not the problem. They instead argue that small improvements to the use of the video equipment, particularly through law enforcement officer training, would solve most of the problems with DUI video evidence issues in South Carolina courts.
Defense lawyers find that these videos can be the strongest piece of evidence to dispute the testimony of the arresting officer. Some argue that without these videos (or the issues with the videos), the defendants will have little real opportunity to contradict the testimony of a police officer.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer For DUI Help
If you have been charged with a DUI in South Carolina, any video evidence of your arrest may be critical to having charges against you dropped or lessened. If you are facing DUI charges, the Bateman Law Firm is prepared to help you build your defense and understand your rights. Call us today to discuss your case in more detail.