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County DUI conviction rate only 46 percent, says MADD

Posted: September 2, 2018 1:57 p.m.
Updated: September 4, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Kershaw County’s misdemeanor DUI conviction rate may not be the lowest in either the 5th or 13th judicial circuits, but the South Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says the county is contributing to what it calls to a low conviction rate across the state.

MADD recently released “A Lack of Conviction,” a report stemming from its court monitoring efforts in the 5th and 13th judicial circuits. According to a MADD press release, the study provides specific data on the outcome of DUI cases and highlights several problematic issues involved with enforcing and prosecuting DUIs in South Carolina.

MADD’s data comes from cases stemming from misdemeanor DUI arrests from January 2016 to May 2017 in Kershaw and Richland counties (5th Circuit), and Greenville and Pickens counties (13th Ciurcuit). Cases were monitored by staff and sometimes volunteers in the courtroom or online.

According to MADD, the 5th and 13th circuits showed very different approaches to DUI prosecution in regard to whether solicitors or law enforcement officers prosecute cases. All of the cases monitored for the 13th Circuit were prosecuted by an attorney from the Solicitor’s Office. However, all or most of the cases monitored for the 5th Circuit were prosecuted by the arresting officer. MADD noted that other states do not allow DUI cases to be prosecuted by officers.

In the 5th Circuit, MADD said that 46 percent of the Kershaw County cases it monitored ended with a conviction while another 51 percent were pled down to a lesser charge, leaving another 8 percent of cases not ending with any conviction.
In Richland County, 48 percent of the 160 cases MADD monitored ended with a conviction, and another 48 percent were pled down, leaving 4 percent without a conviction.

In the 13th Circuit, MADD’s data for Greenville County showed 42 percent of the 597 monitored cases with a final determination ended with the accused being found guilty of DUI or an equivalent charge. Another 47 percent were pled down to a lesser charge, usually reckless driving. For Pickens County, the conviction rate was only 36 percent, but MADD said that data was based on only 28 total cases.

In summary, none of the four counties had a conviction rate over 50 percent.

MADD’s national court monitoring report shows a combined conviction rate of 61 percent among 13 participating states.

“The thought that there are communities where more than half of those arrested for DUI are only ending up with reckless driving charges shouldn’t make us feel safe,” said Steven Burritt, state director of MADD South Carolina. “We can do better. We have to show the conviction to make the changes that will save lives in South Carolina.”

MADD claims in the press release that South Carolina makes the arrest investigation and prosecution of DUI cases far too difficult, leading to the high rate of pleas to lesser charges. MADD officials said summary court judges are dealing with a very lengthy and complex set of DUI laws, yet have an opportunity to greatly influence future conviction rates by taking DUI cases very seriously, ensuring they are heard in a timely manner, and receiving as much training as possible on DUI laws.

MADD’s report also highlights that 40 percent of those arrested for DUI are “refusing to blow” when offered the state’s official breath test to gauge alcohol content. This is in part because the penalty of losing your license for six-months for refusing is negated by the availability of what is known as a Temporary Alcohol License.

“We heard so much frustration about this toothless refusal law,” Burritt said. “An important first step would be having those with these temporary licenses to have to use an ignition interlock device. We are not against people driving, we are just against people driving drunk. These devices would ensure we’re all protected from their bad decisions.”

MADD said it is also raising concerns over the practice of officers prosecuting their own cases because it is not the focus of their training, and the public has the expectation that officers are out enforcing laws rather than preparing for and prosecuting in court. MADD said officers are often facing experienced DUI defense attorneys, which is a mismatch in terms of legal skills.  In these situations, officers were getting convictions in only one out of every four cases, MADD said.

In its press release, MADD South Carolina made the following recommendations to improve the DUI prosecution and enforcement situation in South Carolina and to enhance safety in our communities should be considered immediately:

• Call on summary court judges to take part in as much training as possible regarding our complex DUI laws and acknowledge the important role they have in our unacceptable conviction rates.

• Call on judges to recognize the impact of case delays on the likelihood of a conviction and see to it that DUI cases are heard in a timely manner and continuance motions are not abused as a tactic to get a reduced conviction.

• Strengthen penalties for refusing to submit a breath or blood sample after a DUI arrest, first by tying the Ignition Interlock Device Program into the Temporary Alcohol Licenses for those people who refuse to undergo a breathalyzer test.

• Move toward minimizing officers prosecuting their own cases in court.

• Encourage more aggressive prosecution of DUI cases so that more people are held accountable with the appropriate penalties and not pled down to reckless driving charges that do not keep the public as safe from repeat offenses.

• Amend the state’s dash cam video recording statute so that the other evidence in a DUI arrest can be used even when there is a problem with the video.

• Strengthen Emma’s Law so that all convicted DUI offenders are put on the Ignition Interlock Device Program, which MADD says is the most effective available approach to reducing repeat offenses.

The full report is available at


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