June 7, 2011

Diedreich von Lehe Argues Before South Carolina Supreme Court in No DUI Video Case

This morning, attorney Diedreich von Lehe argued before the South Carolina Supreme Court in The Town of Mt. Pleasant v. Treva Roberts, a case involving the reversal of a defendant's DUI conviction and the dismissal of her charge due to the Town of Mt. Pleasant's failure to produce a video recording of her incident site conduct.

The Town of Mt. Pleasant appealed Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson, Jr.'s order reversing and dismissing Ms. Roberts' conviction as a result of the Town's failure to equip its police vehicles with video cameras more than a decade after S.C. Code Section 56-5-2953 became law.  

During spirited argument, von Lehe told the Court that the statute was signed into law on June 29, 1998, contemporaneously with the appointment of Ken Starr to investigate the Monica Lewinsky scandal; two years before anyone had ever heard of "hanging chads" in the State of Florida; and three years before 911 and "most Americans knew anything about Osama Bin Laden."  Von Lehe also noted that "In January 1961, our great country accepted the challenge posed by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address, and we put men on the moon in less time than the Town of Mt. Pleasant has had to get cameras in their police cars."

Among other things, the Town claimed that it had attempted to obtain cameras from the S.C. Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) but was unsuccessful.  It further asserted that although the statute requires the video recording of a DUI defendant's incident site conduct, there is nothing in the law specifically requiring that a law enforcement agency request in-car cameras from SCDPS.

The Court remarked several times that the voluminous record contained numerous facts suggesting that the Town had not made reasonable efforts to procure in-car cameras.  Specifically, information obtained by von Lehe from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) established that from 1998-2008, the Town made more DUI arrests (2,796) than any other municipality in South Carolina, and that statistic also ranked it 6th out of 332 total law enforcement agencies in the state.  Consequently, and notwithstanding the fact that it enjoyed a preeminent priority to obtain cameras from SCDPS, the Town received only 7 of the more than 3,200 cameras distributed by that agency.  Meanwhile, other law enforcement agencies with far fewer arrests had procured more cameras (for example, The Town of Moncks Corner made 198 arrests and obtained 13 cameras).

Von Lehe argued that in our system of justice, even the Government must comply with the law, and he asked the Court to affirm the circuit court's order and "to hold Mt. Pleasant accountable." 

The Supreme Court will render a decision in the near future.