South Carolina’s state troopers may have to start prosecuting their own drunken-driving (DUI) cases again if SC lawmakers do not replace grant money used to fund DUI prosecutors that will run out in mid-2013. SC county prosecutors are asking for an additional $1.6 million to pay for prosecutors to handle SC's roughly 28,000 DUI charges filed every year.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley included the money in her $6.3 billion proposed budget earlier this month. But SC Rep. Mike Pitts, chairman of a subcommittee that oversees SC law-enforcement agency budgets, said, “I don’t know that we will have the money to honor it this particular year.”
Law enforcement officials say the DUI prosecutors help police officers, who are not trained attorneys and often are pitted against defense lawyers in DUI cases.
“They file numerous motions to try to get the [DUI] case dismissed, and it is hard for an officer to be up on the case and know how to argue motions and that kind of thing on their own,” said David Ross, executive director of the SC Prosecution Coordination Commission, the agency that is requesting the money.
DUI arrests have increased from around 20,000 in 2008 to around 26,000 in 2011. Preliminary numbers for 2012 indicate around 26,000 DUI arrests again this year, according to Col. Mike Oliver with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
This is the second year in a row that SC state prosecutors have asked lawmakers for more money to hire specialized prosecutors for DUI cases.
In July, lawmakers approved an extra $1.6 million to pay for prosecutors to handle criminal domestic-violence cases in the state budget.
But lawmakers had an extra $1.4 billion to spend in the 2012-13 budget, which ends June 30. Lawmakers only have an extra $190 million in recurring money to spend in the fiscal year that starts July 1. And, with so many state agencies requesting budget increases, Pitts says he does not think the state will have enough money to pay for the DUI prosecutors.
Pitts, a former SC police officer, said he is apparently not concerned about state troopers prosecuting their own DUI cases. “They did it for years and did a good job of it,” he said. “As a police officer, I did the same thing.” The real problem, Pitts claims, is the pesky “number of loopholes put in the DUI law” that DUI defense lawyers and their clients can exploit.
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