Starting tomorrow, South Carolina law enforcement officers must read drunken driving suspects their Miranda rights before administering field sobriety tests, the Greenville News reports.
Supporters say the new requirement, part of a law that lowers the maximum legal blood alcohol content to .08, will help prevent cases from being thrown out because an officer didn’t make suspects aware of their constitutional rights.
Critics said it will have the opposite effect. “It will have the end result of thwarting law enforcement’s efforts to detect those people who are driving on the highways under the influence,” said 13th Circuit Solicitor Bob Ariail. “I suspect that’s exactly what it was intended to do.” Requiring officers to read suspects their Miranda rights before administering sobriety tests gives defense attorneys a way to have a case thrown out on a technicality if it isn’t done, said Ariail and Donna Carter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Richard Seamon, a professor of law at the University of South Carolina, supports the new law on the ground that it never hurts to notify citizens of their rights. “I don’t think it’s going to be a serious obstacle for law enforcement,” he said. “It’s another technicality, granted, any time you make police do something extra and they don’t do it then you’re probably going to have some good lawyers getting people sprung for that, but that’s the tradeoff.”
Ariail said he anticipates that more people will refuse to agree to the sobriety tests. A first refusal causes a three-month license suspension; a second refusal, six months. Some states make it a crime to refuse.