Could A False DUI Arrest Happen in South Carolina?

Few things irk me more that what was reported  on February 22, 2013 by the AP to have occurred in Utah. As a criminal defense and DUI lawyer in Charleston, SC. I must say that I have not seen the likes of this here. Hopefully, DUI defense lawyers never will. But police are human and not machines. Diligence on the criminal defense front and scrutiny of cases by everyone is a guard against this.

Lawyers who simply walk their clients into court to plead them guilty without turning over every stone investigating the case and never ceasing to ask one of my favorite questions: “Based on WHAT?” will never serve their clients’ best interests. Of course, an experienced criminal defense and DUI lawyer has learned where to look, what to ask, and what not to accept at face value in any type of criminal case in South Carolina.

Do Incentives Exists for Police Officers to Make Arrests? Is This Practiced In South Carolina?

First, let’s review what happened in Utah.

Trooper Lisa Steed had been on the Utah State Patrol for ten years and rose through the ranks. Steed showed particular skill in making DUI arrests. But was the factor distinguishing her from other Troopers skill, or something else?

The answer lies in her current status-she isn’t a Utah State Trooper anymore. Thank goodness, she was fired in November 2012. But her department let her get away with a lot for a long time. The bad news is that she is trying to get her job back.

Of course, there was an incentive for Steed to excel. She was poised to be named Trooper of the Year. Statistics do matter. Steed made 400 DUI arrest in 2009. That’s more than one a day. Yet, instead of this high number drawing scrutiny from her supervisors, that which seemed impossible drew praise.

Could this happen in South Carolina? I don’t know. I hope not. But I do know that awards are made to troopers based upon the number of DUI arrests made.

“Based on Her Training and Experience”

I have said it a hundred times and would shout it from the courthouse roof. Police officer “training and experience” alone is a groundless explanation for opinions and for the exercise of police powers.  An official with The National Academy of Forensic Sciences once opined that the phrase “based on my training and experience” should not be allowed to be said in courtrooms.

How did Steeds’s department and supervisors assess her record successes in making so many DUI cases? The answer was best put by her DUI squad boss, Lt. Steve Winward. Lt. Winward told the press once, “With her training and experience, it’s second nature for her to find these people who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

Training and experience? No.

Arresting people who were NOT under the influence? Yes.

Crap shooting. Sifting flour. Cast netting. “You make a ton of stops, and you’re going to run into them.”

Steed referred to it as a “numbers game” noting that she concluded one out of every ten drivers is driving impaired. Is that what police officers are supposed to do? Is that what the law allows them to do? Hell no.

Admittedly, she was stopping numerous drivers without any objective evidence of DUI. Once stopped, drivers were subjected to the “Steed-method” of DUI detection.

Steed made many, many arrests applying detections of impairment not generally recognized. She based arrests on “dilated pupils and legs and body tremors.”

Using these methods of detection and investigation, as well as purposely leaving her microphone off to hide her actions from supervisors, it is easy to see how she made hundreds of arrests that should not have been made. It is reported that 0ver 1500 of her arrests could be reviewed.

A memo prepared in May 2010 by Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Rob Nixon noted that the “bulk” of Steed’s DUI arrestees had no signs of “impairing drugs” in their systems. The bulk of her arrests.

Easy Prey for a Bad Cop?

Ms. Tapia went to pick up her husband who had been drinking. When the lady arrived home, Steed approached her as she got of her car. Steed alleged that she had been speeding. Steed also said she could smell the odor of alcohol. Tapia told her that the odor was coming from her husband. Steed arrested her anyway and locked up her husband for public drunk in his car and driveway. Tapia submitted to a blood test which revealed there was no alcohol present. Charges were later dropped.

Mr. Romero was stopped by Steed who accused him of swerving. He denied drinking. Steed arrested him for DUI. His blood alcohol content was 0.00.

Michael Choate, a now-retired aircraft logistics specialist at Hill Air Force Base almost lost his security clearance and job when Steed arrested him for DUI. The probable cause? Choate was driving and wearing a Halloween costume. Steed booked him although three breathalyzer tests showed no alcohol in his system. It cost Choate almost $4,000 to have his case dismissed.

A class action lawsuit is being discussed.

So. Could It Happen Here?

I intend to devote a future blog post to this topic in depth. I will review how South Carolina provides incentives to officers who make the most DUI arrests.

Please remember, as I have stated before. I advocate only for the right to a fair trial. I do not advocate violation of our laws. I do advocate any sort of harm to others which is not rendered in self-defense or which the law otherwise recognizes as justified.

However, it is this sort of police action as was finally discovered in Utah which should frighten every motoring citizen.

Could it happen in Utah? It did.

Could it happen here?

Kulp & Elliott accepts cases in Charleston, North Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Summerville, Goose Creek, Hanahan, Moncks Corner, Ladson, James Island, West Ashley, Folly Beach, Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms, Awendaw, McClellanville South Carolina.


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