Police officers investigate crashes and charge at-fault drivers for causing them. It’s part of the job.
In South Carolina, officers don’t necessarily get to testify in court about the cause of the crash. In a 2019 decision, South Carolina’s highest court gave the reasons for this shocking rule.
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The Hamrick v. State Case
The ruling came from an appeal from a felony DUI conviction in a case called Hamrick v. State. To win the case, in addition to proving the suspect drove intoxicated and seriously hurt the victim, the State basically had to prove the suspect drove carelessly.
To do that, the State attempted to present the testimony of the investigating officer to show the suspect hit the victim, a road construction worker, in a construction zone that vehicles can’t legally drive through.
Because the officer didn’t witness the accident, testifying about the point of impact was his opinion. Legally, before he could give an opinion about that, the officer had to be qualified as an expert by the judge.
That’s where the shock comes in. The South Carolina Supreme Court decided he wasn’t an expert.
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When Testifying About Your Job Doesn’t Make You an Expert
In its ruling, the Supreme Court pointed out the standard for being named an expert under Rule 702 of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence. It requires “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.”
The State needed the officer qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction. The Court revealed how rigorous that standard can be:
Accident reconstruction is a highly technical and specialized field in which experts employ principles of engineering, physics, and other knowledge to formulate opinions as to the movements and interactions of vehicles and people, under circumstances laypeople—even trained officers—simply cannot understand.
The Court ruled the officer didn’t meet the standard because be only took a few courses on the subject over several years.
Interesting note: I have to wonder if the officer could have qualified as an expert if he were a member of the Highway Patrol MAIT team.
When the Badge Isn’t Enough to Protect You, Do More
If you’ve been seriously hurt or lost a family member in a fatal crash, especially if it involves a tractor-trailer accident or a DUI driver, take the extra step to contact an experienced accident attorney. It's the smart thing to do, even if you don't want to.
Our Accident Attorneys Know The Right Experts To Call
You may need your own accident reconstructionist. We can help you find one. It’ll only cost you a little time to get your questions answered and could spare you a lifetime of regret.
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