Horry County DUI cases on the fast track

The 15th Circuit Solicitor's office is moving DUI cases through the system quickly.

Last March, 1,545 DUI and driving with unlawful alcohol concentration cases sat pending in the Horry County Judicial System.

That's when South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal ordered all state magistrate and municipal courts to clean up pending DUI cases.

"We've been trying to accommodate her recommendation," said 15th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Ricky Todd. "We've been moving cases a lot quicker, and also resolutions have been more favorable in DUI prosecution."

According to Horry County Traffic Court records as of August 9th, 2012, there are 585 DUI cases pending. Five hundred three cases are pending in jury court and 82 cases are pending in traffic court.

In her recommendation, Chief Justice Toal also told prosecutors to move cases that sat for more than five years to the front of the line.

In a March 2011 NewsChannel 15 report, Department of Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden said, "Some cases still pending are more than ten years old. Some of these case will never be prosecuted because the reporting officer is either retired from the force or moved on."

Those cases have been settled, and the longest pending case in Horry County is from 2010, said Todd.

"Most cases are from last year," said Todd. "There might be a few cases from 2010...We're getting most cases through within six months."

"It's completely different now," said Myrtle Beach DUI lawyer Natasha Hanna. "For example, when I send them my discovery motion, which is where I asked the state to show me all the evidence they have on my client, they're doing it in a very speedy fashion."

While a quick process might pose a problem for some cases, it's better for DUI cases, said Hanna.

"There really isn't such a thing as too fast, because for my client, that is the worst thing that happened to them and they've got this tremendous weight on their shoulder and they want some kind of closure...They usually want it done faster rather than later."

"We're moving files from March and April of this year," said Todd. "Some cases take longer because of getting witnesses or victims in court together is sometimes harder."

In a report, last September, NewsChannel 15 discovered out of the 1,221 cases moved out, the county nolle prossed (dismissed or reduced the charge) of 702.

Out of those 702 DUI cases, more than 80 percent were reduced to a lesser charge such as reckless driving. The remaining 20 percent were dismissed.

Todd said there was a new circuit court opinion that was adopted by South Carolina courts and that opinion impacted the number of DUI cases that needed to be reduced or dismissed.

The State v. Hercheck opinion says South Carolina Code 56-5-2953 requires anyone who refuses a breathalizer to wait 20 minutes before being processed. That's the same amount of time those who take a breathalizer must wait before they take the test. Courts began to adopt this opinion in February, said Todd.

Prior to the opinion being adopted in the courts, when people suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol refused a breathalizer, police would immediately process those charged instead of waiting the 20 minutes.

Because police are now following the letter of the law, fewer cases are being thrown out.

"Our results have increased a good bit," said Todd. "A lot of people are pleaing. Some are pleaing at first court date."