An upstate man remains free on bond despite six drunken driving arrests in northwestern South Carolina over the past year.
Prosecutors say all of the charges from various law enforcement agencies are considered Warren Brooks’ first offense because none have been resolved in court, so he has no convictions on driving under the influence. He repeatedly posted small bond amounts up to $4,000.
“This is one of the most egregious cases that we’ve seen in a long time,” chief Greenville County prosecutor Walt Wilkins told WYFF-TV. “Obviously, he has an issue with alcohol.”
He said local judges are making bond decisions based on the information they have on the current charge.
Brooks’ first driving under the influence charge occurred in August 2010. The second charge came in May. His third and fourth followed within two weeks. The fifth charge in June involved a hit-and-run, and he had to post higher bond mounts of $25,000 for DUI and $10,000 on the hit-and-run charge. The sixth DUI charge was in July, according to police reports and court records.
Brooks was set to go to trial in June on last year’s charge, but by that time, Wilkins’ office became aware of the other charges. He tried unsuccessfully to revoke Brooks’ bond.
Brooks’ lawyer, Kim Varner, said he’s never been in trouble before this string of charges.
“He is a very intelligent man,” she said. “His life just spiraled out of control.”
At an Aug. 5 hearing, Judge Charles Simmons allowed Brooks to remain out on bond, as long as he’s not caught drinking alcohol and he provides Wilkins’ office with doctor reports. Court documents show Brooks is being treated for bipolar disorder.
Brooks’ family took his vehicle away, so he’s no longer a danger to the public, Varner said.
She acknowledged he also faces a DUI charge from last November in Las Vegas.
Wilkins said there are hundreds of unresolved DUI cases in his court circuit.
Such DUI backlogs are a problem in courts statewide. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal ordered courts last spring to clear out their old DUI cases, as state troopers complained delays were keeping them in courtrooms and off the highways.
If Brooks is convicted for DUI, subsequent convictions would bring increasingly stiffer penalties.
In 2008, legislators approved a law toughening sentences for drunken drivers. The changes tied a tier of penalties to the amount of alcohol in drivers’ bodies, increased penalties for repeat offenders and closed some legal loopholes that critics said allowed suspects to escape punishment.
The blood-alcohol threshold is 0.08 percent. The additional penalties that took effect in February 2009 get harsher at 0.10 percent and again at 0.16 percent.
But any stiffer penalties first require a conviction. Court scheduling conflicts are part of the backlog problem, Wilkins said. But he believes the state’s DUI law is still too weak, allowing defense attorneys to bog a case down with motions.
Challenges include the requirement that video recordings show a suspect’s entire body during sobriety tests, and show the full reading of Miranda rights, he said.
“There are many cases where we can spend a day – or day and a half – just on motions with defense attorneys on a case that ought to take two or three hours to try,” Wilkins said.