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Dorchester Co. coroner criticizes law stating only coroner can arrest sheriff

DeWitt at his bond hearing Sunday night. (Source: Live 5 News) DeWitt at his bond hearing Sunday night. (Source: Live 5 News)
BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A local coroner has blasted the law that says only the coroner had the power to arrest Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt for drunk driving and for leaving the scene of an accident involving injury.

The law that allows only the coroner to arrest a sheriff took center stage at Sunday night's bond hearing for Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne Dewitt.

Magistrate James Polk questioned if he had the authority to set bond because a Highway Patrol trooper and not the coroner made the arrest.

The judge said the arrest might have been illegal.

However, a local coroner who is not involved in the Dewitt case strongly disagrees.

Dorchester County Coroner Chris Nisbet said in his opinion, DeWitt's arrest was not improper.

Nisbet called the the coroner arresting sheriff's law "archaic" and said the law needs to be changed to allow any law enforcement agency to arrest a sheriff.

Nisbet noted the law was passed long before the Highway Patrol was formed. He says the Highway Patrol has statewide jurisdiction to make an arrest.

The big question is will DeWitt's attorney try to get the arrest thrown out because of the law. The attorney will deal with that at a future court hearing for the sheriff.

Highway Patrol officials say state troopers with the South Carolina Highway Patrol have statewide authority to affect arrest without limitations. 

Officials with the Highway Patrol referenced the SC Code of Law below.

SECTION 23-6-140

Powers, duties and responsibilities of officers and troopers. [SC ST SEC Previous23-6-140]

The patrol of the highways of the State and the enforcement of the laws of the State relative to highway traffic, traffic safety, and motor vehicles shall be the primary responsibility of the troopers and officers of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. The troopers and officers of the State Police shall have the primary responsibility for the enforcement of laws relating to commercial motor carriers relating to size, weight, permits, licensing, and inspections for size and weight tolerance and safety. All officers and troopers shall have the same power to serve criminal processes against offenders as sheriffs of the various counties and also the same power as such sheriffs to arrest without warrants and to detain persons found violating or attempting to violate any laws of the State relative to highway traffic, motor vehicles or commercial motor carriers. These officers and troopers shall also have the same power and authority held by deputy sheriffs for the enforcement of the criminal laws of the State.

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