Editorial Roundup, July 30, 2022


The Times and Democrat

July 22

Reducing speeds on S.C. highways grows as priority

South Carolina traffic deaths are down from this time a year ago, but before you think there is any kind of good news from the state's highways, know that more than 500 people have been killed.

The toll is not something new. Research has named the top 10 states with the most dangerous roads in the United States. With a rating of 9.59 out of 10, South Carolina is tied with Arkansas as second-most dangerous behind only Mississippi.

The research from 1-800-Injured, a medical and legal referral network, revealed South Carolina has 1.97 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled and 27.24 fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers.

South Carolina is fourth in the country with the most road fatalities with a rate of 20.79 per 100,000 people.

The state's law enforcement agencies are focused on reducing the carnage.

South Carolina joined five other Southern states this week in "Operation Southern Slow Down." Formerly known as "Operation Southern Shield," the speed enforcement and education campaign is being conducted in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee.

State troopers and local law enforcement officers are concentrating enforcement on interstates and state highways to stop the increase in drivers traveling at speeds well above the legal limit. Law enforcement in the Southeast and across the nation have seen a substantial increase in the number of vehicles traveling at speeds over 100 mph in the past two years.

In the same time frame, the United States has seen an increase in overall traffic fatalities and speed-related traffic deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite a 22% decline in total traffic crashes and an 11% decrease in the number of miles traveled in the country in 2020, the number of people killed in crashes in the U.S. increased by 6.6% compared to 2019.

Speed was a factor in 29% of total traffic fatalities in 2020, a 3% increase from the previous year. The number of people killed in crashes involving speeding increased by 17% in 2020.

"We know that speed and aggressive driving continue to be challenges for law enforcement throughout the country," said Robert G. Woods IV, director of the S.C. Department of Public Safety. "We have seen promising results with these efforts in intercepting dangerous and deadly driving behaviors, especially due to speed."

Operation Southern Slow Down began in 2017. Through 2020, traffic deaths in the five states participating in the enforcement campaign decreased 2% from the week before to the week of the crackdown, while speed-related traffic deaths dropped 14% during the same time.

If you've spent any time driving on interstates, you'll know the law officers are right about people driving at excessive speeds. The focus on slowing them down is warranted.

Allen Poole, director of the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety, should be speaking for all when he says: "The majority of people driving in a safe and legal manner should not have to worry about their safety from selfish drivers who show no regard for their safety and the safety of others with their disregard for speed limits and other highway safety laws."

The Post and Courier

July 27

What bizarre case tells us about folly of erasing history

What used to happen on rare occasions has become commonplace in South Carolina, as our Legislature has increased the number of instances in which people can get their criminal charges or even criminal convictions expunged.

It's an often-laborious process, but the end result is that the government says that its actions never occurred.

Never mind that the arrest really happened. The trial really happened. In many cases, the conviction really happened. The prison sentence really happened. With the stroke of a judge's pen, it's all wiped away from public view. And it should worry us all that our government is erasing the public record of something it really did.

It's one thing to tell schools and employers they can't hold certain arrests and convictions against applicants for admission or jobs. In many cases, we don't have a problem with that. Indeed, we would applaud the school or business disregarding those criminal histories without having to be ordered to do so. But pretending they never happened?

If a court created bogus records to show that someone had been charged, arrested, convicted and sentenced for a crime when in fact none of that had ever happened, would that be OK? Never mind that she didn't actually get arrested or have to serve a sentence, the obvious and easy answer still is "no."

Yet most people don't give it a second thought when courts do the opposite - as South Carolina courts did almost 14,000 times in fiscal year 2021 - obliterating accurate public records that showed those things did happen.

Usually, it's the public that suffers when our courts decree that all evidence of criminal charges must be erased: Politicians, for instance, can lie about past arrests, and there's no official evidence to prove that, yes, they really were charged or even convicted of a crime. Parents can be deprived of information about a prospective babysitter who was convicted of breaking into homes. Homeowners won't know until it's too late that the new neighbor was convicted of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamines. We might not even be able to recognize police incompetence - or worse.

But a bizarre he-said-he-said case in the Upstate reminds us that expungements also can hurt the person whose record is expunged.

The Post and Courier's Eric Connor reports that a prominent Greenville developer is stepping up his campaign to have U.S. Rep. William Timmons removed from office and criminally prosecuted for what the developer claims was abuse of office. Ron Rallis has been claiming on his Instagram page that Mr. Timmons had an affair with his estranged wife and then intervened to have him jailed and charged with kidnapping. Last week, after Mr. Timmons went on conservative talk radio shows in the Upstate to sort of deny the allegations, Mr. Rallis transformed a church he had purchased into a Pepto-Bismol spectacle on what he said was the one-year anniversary of his arrest.

The problem Mr. Rallis has is that he and other members of the public can't get any official evidence of his claim that he was even arrested, much less that he was jailed and forced to wear an ankle monitor for months. That's because he says his records were expunged, which means there are no records.

Our point here isn't about Mr. Rallis, but since he thrust himself into the spotlight - and demanded an even brighter spotlight with the strange pink church stunt - we should point out that there are some problems with his claims.

The biggest is that most expungements are not automatic; the person seeking one has to apply and in some cases pay a fee. It would be pretty short-sighted for someone who is being harassed by a rogue congressman to go out of his way to have all evidence of that situation destroyed.

Additionally, if charges are expunged, that doesn't mean they were trumped up to begin with. Although some charges can in fact be expunged because they were dropped or the accused was found not guilty, they also can be expunged if the accused enters into a pretrial deal with the solicitor.

There probably aren't a lot of cases where an expungement makes it impossible for someone to prove that a congressman misused his office to target him. But there are certainly other cases where it becomes impossible to prove that police targeted individuals - or, more significantly, certain types of individuals - because records of their arrests on clearly trumped-up charges have been disappeared.

We shouldn't punish people for criminal charges of which they weren't convicted, and we should allow people who are guilty to pay their debt to society and move on. But not at the cost of fabricating history. The cost to all of us - including, in some cases, the accused - is just too high.