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Why it's important to review pre-trial discovery

Why it's important to review pre-trial discovery

One of the most important things we do to help our clients challenge a DUI is to obtain and review pre-trial discovery.

This is a critical step in reviewing any DUI case. Unfortunately this isn't something automatically done for defendants by the court, and it's not possible to do prior to the initial court date.

Obtaining and reviewing pre-trial discovery is how we are able to locate defenses that can result in an automatic dismissal of a DUI, or favorable circumstances to help negotiate a reduced charge or win at a trial.

Everyone in South Carolina has a right to demand pre-trial discovery from the arresting officer or the prosecutor. This is done by filing written motions with the court. This is something we do each and every time we are hired for a DUI case. Once these requests are made the government must turn over certain materials before a trial date.

Discovery materials for a DUI usually include, at a minimum:

  • The officer's dash-cam video. This should show the officer initiating a traffic stop, interacting with the driver, conducting any field sobriety tests, and making the arrest.
  • The officer's narrative incident report. This is where the officer will record the important details they observed regarding the DUI investigation and arrest.
  • Breath site test results and video
  • Chain of custody and testing results for blood or urine test
  • Witness statements
  • 911 call summaries and recordings

We review the materials carefully. We are looking for violations of the laws police are required to follow when conducting a DUI investigation or an arrest. We're looking for substantive issues regarding the general allegation as well as required evidence for a DUI. Finally we look for the evidence for or against the officer's assumption of impairment.

To give some examples of circumstances we've uncovered that have achieved successful results for clients (just because we obtained a specific result for one client, doesn't mean that other clients should have the same expectation. No lawyer, including the ones that work here, can ever guarantee or promise any specific result in a criminal or DUI case):

1) We represented a client who was arrested for DUI after getting into a fender-bender accident. He had a prior DUI, so the charge was technically a 2nd offense. After being arrested he provided a breach sample of 0.18, making it the most serious level of charge. After evaluating the video evidence we obtained information that allowed us to argue to the prosecutor that the police officer committed an inexcusable violation of the DUI arrest law. As a result the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the DUI and offer a plea to reckless driving. This saved our client potentially a three-year prison sentence.

2) We represented a client who was arrested for DUI by one of the smaller Lexington County communities outside of Columbia. The police report said that they responded to a call of an unsafe motorist. They found out client asleep in a parking lot in a car they said matched the description reported. They never saw him drive. A review of discovery materials indicated that there was in-fact no report of an unsafe motorist, and instead the officer just happened to come across our client in a parking lot. South Carolina law doesn't allow for a DUI conviction in that situation (without evidence of actual driving), and as a result the charge was dismissed.

We highly recommend that everyone charged with any DUI ensure that there is a full review of all of the discovery materials made in their case before they make any decisions. If you're facing a DUI charge in Lexington, Columbia, or anywhere in South Carolina call us at (888) 301-3532 to schedule an appointment with James Snell or one of our other experienced DUI defense attorneys.


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