Mix up puts drunk drivers back on road

DMV, court working on solution

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Confusion over a new system of handlingappeals of suspended licenses put 54 people accused of drunk drivingback on Upstate roadways.

Under state law, licenses are suspendedautomatically for 90 days for suspected drunken drivers who refuse totake a blood-alcohol test, and 30 days for those whose blood-alcohollevel is at least .15 percent.

Drivers can appeal their suspensions toone of the state’s six Administrative Law Court hearing officers.If their administrative cases are dismissed, drivers can get theirlicenses back pending the outcome of their criminal cases.

However, in the last three months 54 ofthe 57 people who appealed in Greenville, Spartanburg and Andersoncounties got their cases dismissed, said Jana E. Shealy, the agency’sclerk.

One reason for that high number was theinvestigating officers in the cases were not notified due toconfusion about procedures created by a transfer of powers over thecases, Shealy said. Without an officer, the hearing judge had noevidence to hear and was forced to dismiss the charge.

The state Department of Motor Vehicleshandled those cases for years, but asked the State Legislature torelieve it of the duty at the end of 2005. The Administrative LawCourt took over Jan.1, but did not call the arresting officer incases for the first few weeks, Shealy said.

DMV officials said they started callingthe officers a few weeks ago and Shealy said the ALC is now callingthe officers as well.

The reason was the agency was followingits rules on handling cases and under those rules, the arrestingofficer was considered not part of the case, Shealy said. There islegislation before the state House and Senate that would make theofficers part of cases and give them the opportunity to ask forcontinuances.

Shealy said there were other reasonsfor the high dismissal rate, which was 421 of 602 statewide. Thatincluded the various arresting agencies dropping charges or thearresting officer having trials in other courts.

According to DMV records, a little morethan 1,100 state residents surrendered their licenses by not taking ablood-alcohol test during that time.

The DMV has not reinstated licenses inabout 200 of the 421 dismissed cases while it files appeals, saidBeth Parks, an agency spokesperson. Most of the affected drivers canapply for temporary licenses pending the department’s appeals, butthat does not mean they receive one.

The rate in 2006 is not much higherthan the numbers seen in 2005 when the hearing officer at the DMVdismissed 1,818, or nearly 60 percent, of the 3,118 cases they heardbecause police officers didn’t appear, Shealy said.

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