The state's top judge has ordered a statewide effort to address a backlog in drunken driving cases.
Chief Justice Jean Toal issued 132 orders on March 21 to courts across South Carolina to address all backlogged drunken driving cases within 120 days. The courts have 125 days to submit a report showing their compliance or substantial effort to comply with the order.
As of March 18, 12,153 criminal and traffic cases were pending in York County's magistrate and municipal courts. Of those, 1,135 cases are for DUIs and DUACs - charges of driving with unlawful alcohol content, a less severe drunken driving charge. Those cases have been pending for more than the allowed 60 days for nonjury cases and 120 days for jury cases.
Rock Hill had 104 cases as of Feb. 28 pending beyond the deadlines Toal set Feb. 14 for disposing of cases.
Anna Timothy-Miller, an assistant city solicitor for Rock Hill and a former defense attorney, was confident that the pending list could be resolved by Toal's deadline without negative consequences.
"Generally, the consensus is that the city of Rock Hill is in better shape than other cities in the order," she said. "Rock Hill has access to two to three judges and three full-time prosecutors."
Toal's order sends a message that the courts "need to get to these (cases) faster," said Robert McCurdy, assistant director of the S.C. Court Administration office.
Cases get continued or backlogged for various reasons, including attorneys or officers not being able to make the court date because they have to appear in a higher court, McCurdy said.
Letters distributed to law enforcement officials, solicitors, judges and members of the S.C. Bar Association ask for their cooperation in making court dates and assisting however possible.
Higher court judges are asked to release trial attorneys working on drunken driving cases when court dates conflict.
The letters acknowledge the "enormity" of Toal's order, calling the task before the courts a "massive undertaking."
Rock Hill Municipal Court Judge Jane Modla could not be reached for comment Monday.
Timothy-Miller said people shouldn't worry that less attention will be paid to the DUI and DUAC cases for the sake of a quick resolution.
"A DUI case requires at least a half-day to a full day to try," Timothy-Miller said. "That's a lot of court time just for those cases. We have to abide by the order, and we will do our best to do just that."
York County Chief Magistrate Lynne Benfield met with representatives from the 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office on Monday to explore ways of addressing the backlog.
"It's going to be a huge task, but it's something that we all have to do," she said. "We have a good many DUIs."
"We're just working to get our plan in place," she said.
Solicitor Kevin Brackett of the 16th Circuit said dealing with the backlog will require bringing in multiple defendants at once and trying cases.
"That's going to take a tremendous amount of effort," he said.
But preventing future backlogs is going to require replacing the old ways of doing things with new techniques to ensure cases are disposed of "in a timely fashion," he said. Brackett is part of a task force Toal assembled to look at how courts in other jurisdictions move cases more efficiently.
"Her concerns are timely," he said.
The Herald's Nicole E. Smith contributed.