Highway Patrol threatens jail time for traffic violations

Trooper D.P. Boulware of the S.C. Highway Patrol has been sending letters to people charged with minor traffic violations, threatening them with jail if they challenge their ticket and suggesting that the local magistrate is complicit in putting citizens in jail if they request jury trials or do not plead guilty to their ticket as written.  Grek Suskin at Channel 9 news obtained a copy of one of these letters from a citizen ticketed for reckless driving, which reads in part:

“Please advise your client that he has until the 16th of March to enter a guilty plea to the pending charge.  If there is no plea entered by this date, I will request jail time in lieu of a fine. Even if a guilty plea is entered after this date I will still request from Judge Grayson that your client spend time in jail as opposed to a fine.    This is a case of your client wasting the time of both myself and the court presiding.  I would never oppose anyone who questions their guilt requesting the verdict of a jury. However, this is an obvious attempt by your client to avoid responsibility for an offense of which he knows he is guilty.  A copy of this letter will be on file with the presiding court.”

This particular incident involved a citizen ticketed for reckless driving, but Boulware has sent the same letter to citizens ticketed for speeding – an offense for which, per S.C. Code Section 56-5-1520, jail time is not possible unless the violation is 25mph or greater over the speed limit.

Although my experience with most highway patrol officers in court has been that they are well trained and professional, there are always a few that are over the top.  It varies around the state, but in Horry County officers have to prosecute their own cases unless it is a CDV or DUI (the solicitor’s office has two prosecutors assigned to magistrate court to prosecute CDV and DUI cases).  Although they are permitted to prosecute their own cases, police officers are not lawyers and don’t have the training required to try a case or, apparently for some, to deal with a simple jury trial request.

To their credit, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol did not defend the letter and acknowledged it was inappropriate:

“I can tell you that’s not what we expect from our troopers,” said spokesman Bryan McDougald.   “That letter was worded harshly, and strongly.” . . .

. . . “If we’ve been to court 25 times this year, it should be no different than if it’s the first time.  Even it’s the same person because that’s their day in court.  They have a right to a fair trial.”

If this letter had been sent by an attorney subject to the ethics rules, it would at least be in violation of the civility oath (yes, in South Carolina we must take a civility oath, promising to play nice as a condition of being admitted to the bar), and it would probably be in violation of other ethics rules as well.

I wonder how Judge Grayson feels about the highway patrol calling him out and suggesting that he is complicit in putting people in jail for minor traffic violations if they request a jury trial?

2 Responses to “Highway Patrol threatens jail time for traffic violations

  • Having to act as prosecutor is a pretty large and undue burden to put on a cop. They know they are not going to perform as well in court as a full time DA, and there may be some pressure on them to get convictions. I imagine that this system may save the state lots of money, but it really makes people do work they are not prepared to do, and what you get is this mess.

  • Bob Johnson
    7 years ago

    Apparently, the mere defense against a traffic law violation should be construed as a felony to this guy, while Constitutional Law can take a hike. The trooper’s two year community college degree must now be reviewed, de novo. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why society needs attorneys every now and then.

    Also, it’s ironic, isn’t it, that the individual who drafted, served, and filed the speeding citation in the first place has the gall to complain about wasting the court’s time? Many judges hate these (choose your criminal among everyone) charges anyway.

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