Horry County reduces, dismisses 702 DUI cases in 4 months

On March 21st, South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal told county magistrates and solicitors to clear up backlogged DUIs.

At that time Horry County ranked first in the state with 1,545 DUI's pending.

"It's the nature of our county," said 15th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Ricky Todd.

The county hired Todd in August 2010 as a specialist to handle DUI cases. Horry County has more visitors and people who choose to drink then drive, said Todd.

Since Toal's demand, the county moved 1,221 DUI cases out of court by July 21st.

"While we reduced our load by 79 percent, we've added 661 new DUI cases in that time frame."

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.

"That number is higher than an average month," said Todd. "There was a circuit court opinion that was adopted by South Carolina courts that I still don't agree with, but we have have to abide by."

And Todd says that opinion impacted the number of DUI cases that needed to be reduce or dismiss.

The State v. Hercheck opinion says South Carolina Code 56-5-2953 requires anyone who refuses a breathalizer to be videotaped by police for 20 minutes before being processed. 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.

"We would use that against people refusing the breathalizer who were charged with DUI because why else would they refuse it, unless they are guilty."

The courts have determined a 20 minute period allows for a more fair and accurate reading for a breathalizer and to make sure they are not holding anything in their mouth, said Todd.

"It's an unpublished opinion so we did not see the need to require police to do this," said Todd.

But because a majority of people refuse to blow, many of the DUI cases fell into the category of this newly adopted opinion. Meaning those charged with DUI who refused to blow and were not given the 20 minute waiting period, were not properly processed in the court's eyes, said Todd.

The majority of the 702 nolle prossed DUI cases were because of the State v Hercheck opinion that is now being practiced by law enforcement in Horry County, said Todd.

"This was just awful timing," said Todd. "This (Toal's demand) didn't put us in a bind. We weren't trying to have our numbers look good. We wanted good results."