More Legal Stuff
We have more legal stuff for you. After receiving multiple inquiries we spent the first day of the new year searching for case law and legal precedent and discovered something very interesting.
The DUI arrest of Berkeley County Sheriff H. Wayne DeWitt has had one positive result - a lot of South Carolina citizens have been reading their state’s constitution. Nothing like a bit of controversy to renew interest in our basic governing documents. We have received several inquiries about Section 9 of Article VI.
We thought we would take a stab at it even though we are not lawyers or legal scholars. We are just a bunch of folks with common sense and the ability to apply it, as we did when we were the first to shoot down the “illegal arrest” defense which was being put forth by DeWitt’s buddy, Judge Polk, at the bond hearing and by the local media who have been cowed by threats from BCSO administrators.
Since the media has defaulted to simple transcription mode and will only report what is handed to them by BCSO we took it upon ourselves to do the investigative work they refuse to do.
Let’s see what Article VI, Section 9 says.
As you can see, Section 9 of Article VI specifically states an officer shall be removed for “misconduct, or neglect of duty”. We find this to be rather vague, but we also see the point of those arguing for the immediate removal of DeWitt by the Governor rather than waiting for the indictment as required by other sections of the state constitution and provisions of state law.
Is Sheriff DeWitt guilt of misconduct and neglect of his duty as a law enforcement officer driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident in which he caused injury to another person. Yes, he is. Regardless of the outcome of the criminal charges.
The argument presented to us is that a regular commissioned and sworn law enforcement officer charged with DUI and Leaving the Scene of an Accident With Personal Injury would be immediately fired for misconduct in office or conduct unbecoming an officer within hours of being charged. In addition to being fired, the certification of the officer charged would also be voided by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.
We have seen multiple cases of similar dismissals in just the past few years. Some of those officers were even fired by DeWitt. These immediate dismissals are done without regard for the legal concept known as “innocent until proven guilty” that many DeWitt supporters are now suddenly fond of posting all over social media. And, yes, many of these DeWitt supporters were the same people who referred to regular officers charged with similar offenses as scumbags, dirty cops and much, much worse.
Of course, the fact DeWitt is an elected official complicates matters a bit. Or does it? We weren’t able to turn up much information about these situations, but we did find an opinion from 2004 issued by the State Attorney General. That opinion discusses the misconduct issue relative to the removal of an elected Oconee County supervisor due to misconduct in office and whether or not that elected official can be removed by the Governor regardless of the outcome of the criminal charges.
That opinion refers us to Section 1-3-24 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, Removal of Officers by Governor:
Section (3) of that statute is the applicable section. There we see “misconduct” yet again and based simply on issues of misconduct the Governor can hold a hearing and subsequently remove the official. The worst part is the elected official would actually get a hearing and a chance to defend himself, unlike a normal police officer who would simply be stripped of his badge and sent packing.
Either way you look at it, Section 1-3-240 would not facilitate the immediate removal of an elected official for wrong-doing. Citizens either have to wait for an indictment or wait for a hearing to be scheduled and held. The citizens lose either way while a compromised politician, and in this case a compromised law enforcement officer, stays in office.
Let’s review the relevant portion of the Attorney General’s opinion.
According to this opinion, the Governor can remove an officer for misconduct, after a hearing, regardless of the outcome of the criminal charges. The reader should note opinions of the Attorney General, while based on relevant case law and precedent, do not have the weight of law behind them. They are conclusions based on the analysis of case law.
The final conclusion of that opinion?
We have also seen numerous references to the term “crime of moral turpitude” since this DeWitt saga began. We searched for specific crimes of moral turpitude in South Carolina, but found they are not delineated in the criminal code. During the 1993-94 legislative session a few elected representatives introduced Bill 3891 in an effort to rectify that. The bill was buried after the first reading. Hit and run was included as a crime of moral turpitude.
We also found a very interesting site called “The Nerve“. The writers there addressed some of the very issues we are discussing in their September 22nd article titled, “Free Passes in the S.C. House for Bad Behavior“.
Interesting. Would you consider leaving a person you caused to be injured on the side of the road while you fled in an effort to save your own skin to be base, vile or depraved? Did Sheriff DeWitt owe a social duty to his injured victim, his fellow man, an innocent man? Did he violate a duty he owed to society; the same society that elected him to be the top law enforcement officer in the county? Does he owe a duty to his employees and fellow law enforcement officers to stand up, admit he screwed up and accept his punishment for not displaying the same kind of moral courage he would expect of them in a similar situation?
It isn’t like DeWitt stands any chance of going to prison for his criminal and morally reprehensible behavior. We all know the DUI will be dismissed given the current state of the DUI laws and precedent set by judges. With no prior criminal convictions the most DeWitt would get for leaving the scene would be probation or PTI and a fine ranging from $100 to $5,000. We will leave you with the relevant section of South Carolina law relative to leaving the scene of a personal injury accident.
Moral turpitude, indeed.