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Teamer v. State

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 13, 2016

Nathaniel Teamer, Respondent,
v.
State of South Carolina, Petitioner

         Submitted October 15, 2015.

          Appeal from Spartanburg County. Brooks P. Goldsmith, Post-Conviction Relief Judge. Appellate Case No. 2013-001284.

         Attorney General Alan Wilson, Senior Assistant Deputy, Attorney General Alicia A. Olive and Assistant Deputy, Attorney General Suzanne H. White, all of Columbia, for Petitioner.

         C. Rauch Wise, of Greenwood, for Respondent.

         JUSTICE KITTREDGE. BEATTY, Acting Chief Justice, HEARN, J. and Acting Justice Jean H. Toal, concur. PLEICONES, C.J., not participating.

          OPINION

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

         KITTREDGE, JUSTICE:

         This is a post-conviction relief (PCR) matter. Respondent Nathaniel Teamer was convicted of first-degree burglary, felony driving under the influence (DUI) resulting in great bodily injury, and failure to stop for a blue light (FSBL) resulting in great bodily injury and sentenced to an aggregate term of thirty years in prison. Following the court of appeals' dismissal of Respondent's direct appeal, Respondent filed a PCR application. The PCR court granted relief on four grounds. We granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the PCR court's decision. We reverse and reinstate Respondent's convictions and sentences.

         I.

         The State first argues the PCR court erred in finding Respondent's trial counsel ineffective for failing to move for dismissal of Respondent's DUI charge. Specifically, the State argues the PCR court erred in determining the motion to dismiss likely would have been successful because the PCR court misinterpreted section 56-5-2953 of the South Carolina Code. We agree.

         State law generally requires a person charged with DUI to have his conduct at the incident site recorded on video, including his performance of any field sobriety tests. S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2953(A) (Supp. 2015).[1] However, subsection (B) of the statute creates exceptions to this general requirement:

Failure by the arresting officer to produce the video recording required by this section is not alone a ground for dismissal of any charge made pursuant to [s]ection 56-5-2930, 56-5-2933, or 56-5-2945 if the arresting officer submits a sworn affidavit certifying that the video recording equipment at the time of the arrest or probable cause determination, or video equipment at the breath test facility was in an inoperable condition, stating which reasonable efforts have been made to maintain the equipment in an operable condition, and certifying that there was no other operable breath test facility available in the county or, in the alternative, submits a sworn affidavit certifying that it was physically impossible to produce the video recording because the person needed emergency medical treatment, or exigent circumstances existed. In circumstances including, but not limited to, road blocks, traffic accident investigations, and citizens' arrests, where an arrest has been made and the video recording equipment has not been activated by blue lights, the failure by the arresting officer to produce the video recordings required by this section is not alone a ground for dismissal. However, as soon as video recording is practicable in these circumstances, video recording must begin and conform with the provisions of this section. Nothing in this section prohibits the court from considering any other valid reason for the failure to produce the video recording based upon the totality of the circumstances ; nor do the provisions of this section prohibit the person from offering evidence relating to the arresting law enforcement officer's failure to produce the video recording.

Id. § 56-5-2953(B) (emphasis added).

         Shortly before Respondent's trial, we held that failure to comply with the video-recording requirement justifies dismissal of a DUI charge, unless noncompliance is excused under subsection (B) above. City of Rock Hill v. Suchenski, 374 S.C. 12, 17, 646 S.E.2d 879, 881 (2007) (holding dismissal of a DUI charge " is an appropriate remedy provided by [section] 56-5-2953 where a violation of subsection (A) is not mitigated by subsection (B) exceptions" ).

         In the present case, Respondent's FSBL and felony DUI charges arose from a chain of events that began in the City of Spartanburg in the early morning hours of February 3, 2006. As Respondent drove out of the parking lot of a convenience store around 1:00 a.m., he pulled out in front of Officer Timothy St. Louis of the City of Spartanburg Department of Public Safety. Officer St. Louis began following Respondent's car because he noticed Respondent was driving with his headlights off and because Respondent threw a beer can out of his vehicle's window. Officer St. Louis activated his recording camera and initiated his blue lights, suspecting the driver may have been intoxicated.[2] However, Respondent did not stop and continued to drive erratically. Officer St. Louis turned off his lights and siren, pursuant to the city's " no chase" policy, and put out a " be on the lookout" (BOLO) alert to county and state officers that included a description of Respondent's car and license plate.

         Moments later, Spartanburg County Sheriff's Deputy David Evett spotted a vehicle matching the description from the BOLO traveling with its headlights off. When Deputy Evett pulled close behind Respondent's vehicle to verify the license plate number before initiating a traffic stop (by activating his lights and siren), Respondent took off at a high rate of speed. Deputy Evett activated his lights and siren and pursued Respondent, but at a distance, as Respondent continued to flee at a high rate of speed and without headlights.[3]

         Deputy Evett lost sight of Respondent's vehicle, but came in sight of his vehicle just as the vehicle collided head-on with another vehicle.[4] After witnessing sparks from the collision, Deputy Evett radioed for back-up and medical assistance, then exited his patrol car and checked on both drivers. The driver of the other vehicle was seriously injured. Although Respondent was injured, he managed to crawl through the passenger-side window and attempted to flee on foot. Deputy Evett stopped ...


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