More than 1500 DUI and driving with unlawful alcohol concentration cases sit pending in the Horry County Judicial System. An amount South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal says needs to be decreased to help public safety officials.
After a talk with South Carolina Department of Public Safety Director Mark Keel, Toal asked all state magistrate and municipal courts to clean up pending DUI cases within the next four months.
"We are concerned about this backlog of cases," says Toal. "We're putting a spotlight on these cases so we can diagnose, once the four months is over, if we're getting maximum effort from all involved." Toal wants the 120 day turnover to help prosecuting officers deal with the cases in what she calls a timely manner.
Being a tourism area, Toal says Horry County is more likely to have more DUI cases pending because of delays in getting those accused to show up for court.
"Some cases still pending are more than ten years old," says Department of Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden. "Some of these case will never be prosecuted because the reporting officer is either retired from the force or moved on."
Gaulden says he'd like to see the remaining cases moved through in a more timely manner than they are right now. "The number alone will show you that a large amount of DUI cases are still waiting and have not been settled."
In October 2010, Keel found about 10,000 DUI cases pending.
Horry County Assistant Solicitor Ricky Todd says the county has been trying to move court cases through faster for some time. "It's not that we're moving cases through slowly. It's that we have more DUI cases than most counties because we are a tourist town and a college town."
Todd says the county has added more court terms and given harsher penalties to those convicted of DUI. He says they see the need to deal with cases quicker to help prosecuting officers. "I know that officers have to make so many different arrests, and if we can get it done in only 120 days, it would be fresher on their memory to help them."
He says the key is to keep the rights of those accused of DUI intact. "We are still expecting some cases to have legitimate delays, but we are going to do everything we can to get these cases settled."
Toal says each county will be held accountable at the end of the four-month period.