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In South Carolina, DUI offenders getting stopped, but not punished, says group

Officers pulling motorists over at a checkpoint. (File/WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Impaired drivers over the legal limit are getting stopped, but are they getting punished?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says impaired drivers are getting off the hook with reduced charges or even their cases tossed.

One Lowcountry mother knows this pain all too well.

Paula Schaefer was driving with her daughter, Sarah, when they were hit by a impaired driver.

"I remember waking up from the accident, she was laying on my lap. I did not know she was dead at the time, " says Schaefer.

Sarah would be 26 today.

Instead, they shared their final hug in the hospital in 1999.

"They gave us a minute to do our final goodbyes and me telling them, 'it’s not time,' and, 'I am not giving up on her,'" says Schaefer.

Paula says the impaired driver who killed her daughter was never convicted.

MADD says drivers often beat their charges because of what happens when the driver is stopped.

"You can pull over someone who smells like alcohol, driving erratically, admits to drinking ten beers, throws up on the officer's shoes, blows a .19 and if something goes wrong with that video, they still will not get a DUI conviction in this state," says Steven Burritt MADD, SC Executive Director.

Traffic safety expert Trooper Bob has stopped thousands of drivers, many impaired.

“The DUI law isn't tough enough—it doesn't have any teeth in it" says Trooper Bob.

Trooper Bob states that if a person walks off camera even for a second, like during a sobriety test, that can be grounds to throw out a conviction.

Attorney David Aylor has prosecuted and defended DUI offenders. He says everything need to be recorded so the process is fair.

"If the officer is going get up and testify based on his notes, that is going to be his version of the story...if there is nothing to back that up from a video or audio standpoint, than you are really set back from the defense side to disprove officer," says Aylor.

In 2015, MADD placed court monitors in Richland, Kershaw, Greenville and Pickens counties.

Dedicated people will be following first-time offenders from their first hearing to their last.

"In all four of counties, not one had a 50 percent conviction rate, so just as many people are getting DUI convictions as getting to plead down to a lesser charge like reckless driving, says Burritt.

About six months ago MADD's court monitoring program starting in Berkeley and Charleston counties.

Many cases are just starting to go to court so there are no numbers yet.

But, In 2017 South Carolina had 313 impaired driving fatalities

Pennsylvania had 314 just one more death with nearly 8 million more people.

"It's gut-wrenching because it is hard enough to bury your child because as a parent you are not supposed to do that, but as a parent to know it is avoidable, and it does not need to have happened. And then on top of that, no prosecution is unbearable, say Schaefer

In December, legislation was introduced in the state senate to require first-time offenders to get a breath ignition device for their car.

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