MADD’s Court Monitoring Program enlists court monitors to observe and document what happens in the courtroom during impaired driving case proceedings. The program was created to ensure that impaired driving offenders are prosecuted and justice is achieved. Court monitoring is a tool proven to affect the adjudication process and is recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as an effective countermeasure to reduce impaired driving (1). Court monitors on the local scale can impact the handling of impaired driving cases by their mere presence in the court room.
Court monitoring is intended to enhance transparency and accountability within the criminal justice system and reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses. One way this goal is achieved is by sharing data and observations with law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, and the public to promote awareness of impaired driving and ensure accountability for all impaired driving offenders. To reduce future offenses, MADD® supports swift and unbiased treatment of all impaired driving cases. Court monitors track misdemeanor impaired driving cases in the judicial courts of their respective counties. Court monitors are often physically present for court settings and acquire case information from courtroom observation and, when necessary, from researching online databases. The data is then entered into the MADD National Court Monitoring Database for reporting purposes. The information presented in this report is from cases monitored in 2021.
The South Carolina Court Monitoring Program monitored cases in Berkeley, Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Richland and Spartanburg counties.
South Carolina State Report (reporting period: 1/1/2021 – 12/31/2021)
Pending Cases Monitored* | 2347 | 76% Adjudicated Cases Monitored | 753 | 24% Total Cases Monitored in 2021 | 3100 *pending cases are cases waiting for a judgement
This report is designed to present observations and trends relative to the ten counties monitored and is not intended to be a statistical analysis.
by County Dispositions
Case Disposition DUI
Guilty Pled Down Dropped/Dismissed/Not Guilty
*An amended disposition means the charge was amended to a lesser charge (such as Reckless Driving).
Data reported where disposition is known.
Key Findings & Observations South Carolina’s court monitors review misdemeanor DUI cases in the summary courts of Greenville, Richland, Lexington, Spartanburg, Berkeley, Charleston and Horry Counties. Some counties have been monitored as far back as January 2016 and some Dispositions by County have just been monitored since January 2019. The monitors are physically present for court settings and acquire case information from courtroom observation but often collect data from researching online databases, as well. The findings are then entered into the MADD National Court Monitoring Database for reporting purposes. 2021 was a challenging year for the court system in South Carolina with a second round of COVID-related court closures and the lasting impact that has had on case backlogs and, ultimately, conviction rates. Within the seven counties monitored, we saw a range of impacts in our data—one county that experienced a slow proceeding of cases, some counties that have conviction rates similar to our pre-pandemic data, and two counties with unusually high conviction rates. In regard to the high conviction rates, our observations showed that of the cases that proceeded in 2021 were those where the offender pled guilty. Our observational data revealed that prosecutors in those areas may not have felt pressured to offer lesser pleas to those who did not plead guilty. This could have meant that their backlog was growing but that was preferred to lowering the standards of what they typically would prosecute more aggressively. In a series of discussions with law enforcement, prosecutors, and community partners, we heard consistent feedback that the impact of COVID on the courts and DUI prosecution is almost entirely negative for achieving desired conviction results. Specifically: Impaired driving stayed just as bad, if not worse, and there were serious law enforcement staffing shortages Court closures took away the ultimate “stick” for prosecutors of going to trial giving the defense massive advantages for pushing for lesser pleas or delaying cases Growing backlogs that dissatisfied the heads of prosecution agencies and, often, judges Disruptions in court processes due to attorneys or jurors getting COVID On a positive side, it does appear in some areas that the overwhelming circumstances led to some new practices and innovations. Technology is being used to advance cases like never before. Increased use of “status conferences” with judges and defense attorneys led to some case resolutions. Also, some law enforcement agencies and their prosecutors began to pay more attention to the implied consent hearings for refusals and leveraged how the license suspension was treated to elicit more guilty pleas (e.g. the prosecution would not push for the six-month license suspension for refusing if the person would plead guilty to the DUI). These COVID-related challenges only add to the existing barriers in the state where conviction rates in most counties appear to be under 50% and lesser plea outcomes are often as common or more so as guilty results. It is reasonable to connect South Carolina’s low conviction rate with the fact that it is among the nation’s worst for drunk driving fatalities. South Carolina’s 315 deaths in 2020 is higher than many other states with millions of more citizens.
MADD SOUTH CAROLINA CONTINUES TO CALL FOR CHANGE IN THE FOLLOWING AREAS:
Requiring ignition interlock devices for all convicted offenders Adding an ignition interlock device requirement for being eligible to get a Temporary Alcohol License if it is revoked for refusing the breath test. 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. Encourage adequate resources for DUI prosecution so that attorneys are prosecuting rather than officers. Urge judges to recognize the impact of case delays by the defense on the likelihood of a conviction. Increase training for officers on proper handling of DUI arrests.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY DRUNK OR DRUG-IMPAIRED DRIVING, MADD IS HERE TO HELP. CALL OUR VICTIM/SURVIVOR 24-HOUR HELPLINE AT 877-MADD-HELP (877-623-3435).
(1) Richard, C. M., Magee, K., Bacon-Abdelmoteleb, P., & Brown, J. L. (2018, April). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasure guide for State Highway Safety Offices, Ninth edition (Report No. DOT HS 812 478). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Driving a vehicle while impaired is a dangerous crime, yet continues to happen across the United States. Each year, about 1 million individuals are arrested. What happens after those arrests depends on the criminal justice system. As a MADD court monitor, you can get the insider’s perspective on the judicial system while making a vital contribution to your local community. Your presence in court and the data you collect will help make sure our laws are upheld and the criminal justice system does what it is intended to do: Keep us safe. Court monitors achieve the work of MADD’s Court Monitoring Program by doing the following: Remind law enforcement that MADD wants to see their cases prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law
Track conviction rates and sanctions
Identify trends in offender age, gender, and blood alcohol concentration level
Track conviction rates and sanctions
Promote public awareness and understanding of the dangers of impaired driving
For more information about court monitoring efforts in your state, please visit madd.org/courts to learn more about the program and the availability to volunteer.
For more information about volunteering in South Carolina, please visit madd.org/South-Carolina.
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