South Carolina Supreme Court Rules Safety Trumps Jurisdiction in DUI Case

September 6, 2018

South Carolina’s highest court has ruled a woman’s driving under the influence charge shouldn’t be dismissed because her car crashed a few feet outside the city whose officer detained her.

Jennifer Lynn Alexander was found inside her still running car in a ditch on U.S. Highway 176 in July 2013 by a Goose Creek police officer.

The highway was in Goose Creek city limits, but the ditch was not, which is not an unusual situation in South Carolina, with the state’s strict laws on annexation creating dozens of islands and doughnut holes of unincorporated land surrounded by cities.

The officer suspected Alexander was drunk, so he asked her to turn off her car and stay put while state troopers responded, according to court records reviewed by The Post and Courier of Charleston .

Alexander’s lawyers successfully argued to a magistrate that the Goose Creek officer didn’t have the authority to detain her because she was not in their jurisdiction, even if it was only to wait for someone with jurisdiction to arrive.

The state Court of Appeals agreed, but the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the ruling in August, and lawyers for the state called it a very important decision.

“The factual scenario where officers are outside their jurisdiction is a common occurrence,” said Marc Gore, a lawyer for the Department of Public Safety. “We needed the law to be clear on when their jurisdiction is there and when it’s not there so we know how to proceed with cases like this.”

The Supreme Court justices sided with the argument that a police officer can’t just drive away when summoned for help because something could have happened like the woman walking into traffic and Goose Creek would have been responsible.

“To be clear, jurisdictional boundaries mean something and … an officer (usually) has no authority to act in his official capacity beyond his jurisdiction. However, (the law) provides a narrow exception to the general rule when an officer is summoned for help,” Justice John Kittredge wrote in the court’s opinion.

Alexander’s lawyer Henry Schlein said he still thinks the law doesn’t allow officers to detain people outside their jurisdiction for any reason. “But I bow to the wisdom of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Topics Legislation South Carolina

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