State v. Kenneth Taylor: What Happens if the Officer Doesn’t Show Miranda on a DUI Roadside Video?

Last month, the SC Supreme Court held in State v. Kenneth Taylor that the remedy for an officer’s failure to show Miranda rights being read to a DUI defendant during the traffic stop is not grounds for dismissal.

It’s a major change in DUI law because 1) the Court first found that SC Code § 56-5-2953 requires the roadside video to not only contain audio of the officer reading the Miranda rights, but to also show both the officer and defendant as the officer reads the Miranda rights, and 2) despite the plain language of SC Code § 56-5-2953 and the Court’s prior opinions on this matter, the Court held that the remedy for a violation is not dismissal of the DUI.

How did the Court arrive at this conclusion, and what does it mean for other violations of SC Code § 56-5-2953?

SC Code § 56-5-2953 Requires the Officer to “Show” Miranda Rights Being Read to a DUI Suspect

SC’s mandatory videotape law requires the arresting officer in DUI case to record:

  1. The entire traffic stop, including the defendant’s conduct during any field sobriety tests, the officer reading Miranda rights to the suspect, and the arrest, and
  2. The entire breath testing procedure, including the actions of the defendant, the Datamaster operator, the defendant’s conduct during the 20-minute observation period, the Datamaster operator informing the defendant that they have a right to refuse the test, and the Datamaster operator informing the defendant that they are being recorded.

SC Code § 56-5-2953 specifically says that the video must “show the person being advised of his Miranda rights,” and the choice of the word “show” has caused some confusion for the lower courts.

If the point is to provide evidence that Miranda rights were read to the defendant, to avoid a swearing contest in court where the officer says, “I read them,” and the defendant says, “no you didn’t,” then it seems like it would be enough to hear the officer reading Miranda rights. Why isn’t it enough if you can hear the officer reading Miranda rights?

Rules of Statutory Construction and the Plain Language of the Statute

The SC Supreme Court in Taylor goes to great lengths to analyze SC Code § 56-5-2953 using the rules of statutory construction. For example:

  • The primary rule of statutory construction is “to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the legislature.”
  • A statute’s language must be construed in light of its intended purpose, and “[w]henever possible, legislative intent should be found in the plain language of the statute itself.”
  • “The Court should give words ‘their plain and ordinary meaning without resort to subtle or forced construction to limit or expand the statute’s operation.'”
  • A statute’s language should be “read in a sense which harmonizes with its subject matter and accords with its general purpose.”
  • “[A] court should not focus on any single section or provision but should consider the language of the statute as a whole,” and
  • The Court must reject a statutory interpretation if it leads to an absurd result that could not possibly have been intended by the legislature or that defeats plain legislative intent.

The Court points out that the legislature changed the language of SC Code § 56-5-2953 in 2009 from “must include the reading of Miranda rights” to the video recording must “show the person being advised of his Miranda rights.”

The legislature “intentionally amended the statute to add a visual requirement, and the SC Supreme Court says they “cannot engage in forced construction of the words the General Assembly chose to employ.”

Therefore, although some would say it is an absurd result to require the video to capture both officer and defendant as the officer reads Miranda rights to the defendant, a DUI recording must “show” the reading of Miranda rights, with both defendant and officer “visually seen and audibly heard.”

Dismissal is the Remedy for a Violation of SC Code § 56-5-2953…. Unless It’s a Miranda Violation

So, what happens if the recording doesn’t “show” the reading of Miranda rights?

For the last 15 years, since the SC Supreme Court decided City of Rock Hill v. Suchenski, SC courts have held law enforcement to the letter of the law, dismissing DUI charges when the arresting officer or Datamaster operator fails to comply with the requirements of SC Code § 56-5-2953.

Why?

Because, using the rules of statutory construction, it is clear that the legislature intended for dismissal to be the remedy when law enforcement fails to follow the videotape requirements.

First, the provisions of SC Code § 56-5-2953 are mandatory – the statute does not say, “can,” “may,” or “when convenient.” It says, “must.”

Second, the statute provides an “out” if it was not reasonable for the officer to comply with the videotape requirements under the circumstances – SC Code § 56-5-2953(B) says that dismissal is not the remedy if:

  • The 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,”
  • The officer “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,”
  • There are circumstances like “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,” as long as video recording begins as soon as it is practicable, or
  • There are any other valid reasons for failing to produce the video recording “based on the totality of the circumstances.”

State v. Kenneth Taylor: No Miranda, No Dismissal

After explaining in great detail why the rules of statutory construction require the court to interpret the word “show” as requiring both visual and audio of the officer and defendant as Miranda rights are being read, the Court goes on to find that dismissal is not the appropriate remedy for a violation.

Ignoring the plain language of the statute and their prior decisions on SC Code § 56-5-2953, the Court explains that, because the remedy for any other Miranda violation is suppression of evidence obtained in violation of Miranda, that should also apply to SC Code § 56-5-2953.

In the Court’s opinion, dismissal of the DUI charges would be an absurd result under these circumstances:

However, we take this opportunity to clarify that moving forward, when a DUI suspect is not Mirandized in accordance with the statute, statements made by the suspect during custodial interrogation are to be considered given under the cloud of a Miranda violation. However, just as is proper when there is a Miranda violation in any other kind of case, suppression of tainted evidence—not per se dismissal of the DUI charge—is the proper remedy…

It would be absurd to require per se dismissal of the DUI charge simply because Miranda warnings were not visually depicted on camera.

Of course, dismissal under these circumstances is not dismissal for violation of a defendant’s Miranda rights. It is dismissal for the officer’s violation of the mandatory requirements of SC Code § 56-5-2953. The remedy is dismissal because there is no other mechanism that would ensure law enforcement’s compliance with SC Code § 56-5-2953.

Regardless, the rule now is that 1) the remedy for violation of SC’s mandatory videotape law is dismissal of the DUI charges, unless the violation is the officer’s failure to show Miranda rights being read to the defendant, and 2) the remedy for the officer’s failure to show Miranda rights being read to the defendant is suppression of any statements taken in violation of Miranda.

DUI Defense Lawyers in Conway, SC

If you have been charged with DUI or DUAC in Myrtle Beach, Conway, or anywhere in the Horry County area, you may have valid defenses to the charge or there may be grounds to get your case dismissed.

Contact DUI Defense Lawyer Johnny Gardner now at (843) 248-7135 for a free consultation to find out how we can help.