Mothers Against Drunk Driving is blasting a South Carolina law that makes dash cam arrest videos a required piece of evidence in drunk driving cases, according to a new annual report.
The organization believes faults in the videos often result in plea deals that lead to lesser charges.
"Here in South Carolina we simply make it too difficult to enforce and prosecute DUI cases,” MADD State Director Steven Burritt told Fox News. “There are things in our state laws, and loop holes, and the way we provide resources to prosecution, that leads to lots of challenges...including the fact that so many cases are getting pled down because of the number of technicalities folks have to deal with as they prosecute the case."
South Carolina’s dash cam video recording statute requires video to be recorded as soon as an officer sees a suspected drunk driver to the moment the suspect is arrested and put in the patrol car.
“If there is any sort of imperfection, a mechanical glitch, the foot goes out of the frame, somebody even staggers out of the shot in some cases, in South Carolina if you lose the video you have no chance of getting a DUI conviction,” Burritt explained.
According to the report even if an officer witnesses and records erratic driving, smells alcohol on the person, hears an admission to drinking and driving, if their dash cam video is lacking, the case likely will be thrown out or pled down to reckless driving.
“In regard to video and video evidence that we are seeing more and more from the dash cam and body-worn cameras, the pictures don’t lie", said Troy Slaten, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor who has handled hundreds of DUI cases.
He added, "if it looks like the officer is purposefully taking someone off camera so that way their version of the event is the only version, then that can be a problem for prosecutors.”
National data collected by MADD shows there was an average 68 percent conviction rate for DUI charges. South Carolina officers and prosecutors indicated to MADD staff they think their conviction rate may be well below 50 percent.
Volunteers in the program say they hope releasing the report will help bring about an amendment to the state’s dash cam video recording statute so the other evidence in a DUI arrest can be used even when there is a problem with the video.
“Law enforcement does a good job of stopping drunk drivers, and we look at our court monitoring report as a way to help law enforcement -- and in some situations hold the judiciary system accountable, or to give kudos to a judiciary system or to a court where they are doing a good job in prosecuting and convicting drunk drivers,” MADD Chief Public Affairs Officer J.T. Griffin told Fox News.
MADD said it would continue to monitor DUI cases and publish annual reports.
“The hope with the report is that people will see it, victims of drunk driving, concerned citizens, will really understand that we need help and that they’ll come and volunteer and hopefully will help us track these cases across the country,” Griffin said.
A South Carolina Highway Patrol official would not comment, but shared preliminary statistics showing more than 11,000 DUI arrests since the beginning of this year.