Last week in a magistrate's office in Richburg, two state troopers sat in a small wood-paneled room as the judge passed sentences in DUI cases.
Lance Cpls. Jeremy McCloud and William Westbrook were not there as witnesses, but as prosecutors.
In most parts of South Carolina, troopers not only patrol the roads on the lookout for drunken drivers, but also argue their own DUI cases before a judge. They call their own witnesses, issue subpoenas and file their own paperwork.
Critics say it's one of many problems that needs to change to shore up the state's driving under the influence laws.
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Troopers are the only law enforcement agents who must try their own cases. Sheriffs' departments and municipal police departments have attorneys to prosecute DUIs.
"It presents quite a challenge," said Sgt. Ray Sapp, a state trooper in York County.
Sapp said troopers have anywhere from 25 to 50 DUI arrests per month in York County.
Last week, Gov. Mark Sanford signed a new DUI law, which will strengthen the state's notoriously lax statute. It will take effect next year.
Before the signing of a new law, South Carolina ranked next to last in the country in the strength of DUI statutes, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Only Wisconsin ranked worse.
The state also ranked near the bottom in alcohol-related traffic deaths.
Of the 1,037 traffic deaths in 2006, 523 involved alcohol, according to a report by MADD.
The new DUI law requires an automatic six-month suspension of a driver's license if the driver refuses a breathalyzer and a tiered scale of punishment depending on the amount of intoxication, and drops the requirement for police officers to recite Miranda rights to suspects twice.
Those who prosecute the crimes say it will take a year, maybe two, to judge the law's effectiveness.
While the new law created harsher penalties for driving under the influence, it did not include any change to the current system of troopers trying first-time offenders in court.
A little bit of help
In York County, troopers get a little help from a prosecutor. York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett receives money for one of his attorneys to assist in DUI cases. Even then, the attorney will work only half of the cases, Brackett said. In the surrounding counties, troopers receive no assistance.
Capt. Marc Wright, commander of Patrol Troop 4, covering seven Piedmont counties, said troopers will be in court two to seven hours per trial, plus additional time for trial preparation.
"It can be very time-consuming," Wright said.
At the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, troopers receive cursory training in how to prosecute DUI cases. But as the law becomes more complex, Wright said troopers would prefer that prosecutors take the cases.
"We can argue facts of the case, but we can't argue the law," Wright said.
In some larger counties such as Spartanburg, prosecutors try all DUI cases. Wright would like to see that throughout the state so troopers could spend more time on the road.
"It would be a tremendous help as far as helping people on the highways," Wright said.