CASE NAME: State vs. Walters (SC Ct. App. No. 5443; September 28, 2016)
On July 13, 2014, Walters was arrested for DUI in York County. On that date, Trooper Mike McAdams, the arresting officer, administered a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. While his dashboard camera was recording, Trooper McAdams positioned Walters in front of his patrol car facing away from the camera and conducted the test. According to Trooper McAdams, Walters was turned away from the patrol car to prevent the flashing lights from causing a false positive on the HGN test.
On December 16, 2014, this case proceeded to trial in the circuit court. During a pretrial hearing, the circuit court dismissed the case, finding the video recording did not comply with section 56-5-2953(A) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2015) because it did not fully show the administration of the HGN test. The court found because Walters was facing away from the camera, it could not determine whether Trooper McAdams and Walters were in the proper position or whether Trooper McAdams was moving his finger at the proper pace. The circuit court further held section 56-5-2953(B) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2015) did not apply because the video recording was not missing or malfunctioning. This appeal followed.
Did the dash cam video contain all of the statutorily required elements for the case to be presented to a jury?
The video recording in this case complied with the statute because it began before Walters was stopped and continued uninterrupted during the administration of the field sobriety tests, the reading of Miranda,1 and Walters’ arrest. The statute does not require every aspect of the HGN test be seen in order to judge a person’s performance or the officer’s administration of the test. The plain language of the statute does not require the officer’s hand to be visible at all times during the administration of the HGN test, nor does it require the video to provide the viewer with the ability to assess the defendant’s success or failure. As long as the recording includes “any field sobriety tests administered,” it is in compliance with the plain, unambiguous language of the statute.
We find the video recording at issue in the present case properly included the recording of any field sobriety tests administered as required by section 56-52953(A). Walters’s head is visible during the entire recording of the HGN test. In addition, Trooper McAdams’s arm is visible as he administers the test, and his instructions are audible. While Trooper McAdams’s finger disappears at times during the test as his hand moves in front of Walters’s face, the statute does not require video recordings of the HGN test include views of all angles of the test. Such a requirement would be unreasonable given the limitations of dashboard cameras. Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court’s dismissal of the case.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.