DUI charges in SC can happen to anyone – politicians, police officers, lawyers, doctors or school teachers. A person from any walk of life is subject to being pulled over and accused of driving under the influence.

Some police officers will arrest a person for DUI just because they smell alcohol – regardless of how the person performs on the field sobriety tests. Some police officers are “true believers” who do not think a person should drive after drinking a single drop of alcohol – despite what SC law says about it.

Whether you want to avoid getting pulled over and charged with DUI in SC or just want to know how to fight a DUI in SC because you have already been charged, you may want to review the basics of SC’s DUI laws.

Below, we will discuss:

  • The elements of a DUI charge in SC,
  • The difference between DUI and DUAC,
  • Drivers License suspensions resulting from SC’s implied consent laws, and
  • The potential penalties and fines you are looking at if you are convicted of DUI in SC.

Driving Under the Influence Charges in SC

It is not against the law to drink and drive in SC.

Despite the advertising campaigns by state agencies and advocacy groups, the billboards, and the televisions commercials you have seen, it is not against the law to drink and then drive. Buzzed driving is not drunk driving, and SC does not have a “zero tolerance” law except as applied to minors (persons under twenty-one (21) years old).

So, what is DUI, and how does the state prove DUI charges against a person?

DUI & DUAC Charges in South Carolina

How Does the State Prove DUI Charges in SC?

SC Code § 56-5-2930 says that it “is unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle within this State while under the influence of alcohol, [drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs] to the extent that the person’s faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired.”

There are three elements that the state must prove if they want to convict a person of driving under the influence in SC:

  1. The person was actually driving (not sitting in the car listening to the radio and not passed out behind the wheel while the car is not moving),
  2. While driving, the person was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs, and
  3. The person was under the influence “to the extent that the person’s faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired.”

As stated, it is not against the law to drink and then drive in SC. It is illegal to drink to the extent that your faculties or ability to drive are materially and appreciably impaired – that could be one drink, or it could be four or five drinks, depending on the person’s physical characteristics and metabolism and the type of drinks consumed.

Although a breathalyzer result greater than .08 may be evidence that a person was intoxicated to the extent that their faculties to drive were materially and appreciably impaired, a person’s breathalyzer results could be .10 or .15 and the person could still be not guilty of DUI if the state does not prove material and appreciable impairment.

How Does the State Prove DUAC Charges in SC?

Driving under an unlawful alcohol concentration is different, however.

If a person is charged with DUAC under SC Code § 56-5-2933, the state only needs to prove that 1) the person was driving and 2) their blood alcohol content (BAC) was .08 or more.

The state must have a breath, urine, or blood alcohol test that is admissible in court to prove DUAC – if there are no test results or if the test results are suppressed at trial, there cannot be a conviction for DUAC.

Also, even when there is an alcohol test result, the defendant can introduce evidence to show that the test results were wrong including:

  • Independent test results,
  • Errors or flaws in the machine or testing process,
  • The officer’s failure to follow SLED policy and procedures,
  • Expert testimony as to the operation (and flaws) of the Datamaster machine or other testing processes, and
  • Sobriety witnesses who can testify that the defendant was not intoxicated or did not appear intoxicated.

SC Implied Consent Laws

Your license may be suspended after a DUI arrest if you refused the breathalyzer or if you took the breathalyzer and the result was .15 or greater.

You must then request an administrative hearing to ask a DMV hearing officer to “rescind the suspension” and restore your license – a proceeding that is separate from the DUI charges. If you do not request an implied consent hearing or if you lose the implied consent hearing, your license can be suspended again if you are convicted of DUI.

If you win the implied consent hearing, your license can still be suspended again if you are convicted of the DUI – you must fight both 1) the administrative license suspension and 2) the DUI charges in separate courts.

Felony DUI in SC

If you are intoxicated while driving and your negligence causes death or great bodily injury to a person, you could be charged with felony DUI in SC.

SC Code Section 56-5-2945 says that felony DUI is when a person 1) drives a motor vehicle, 2) while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs, 3) “does any act forbidden by law or neglects any duty imposed by law in the driving of the motor vehicle,” and 4) that “act or neglect proximately causes great bodily injury or death to another person.”

The potential penalties for a felony DUI include:

  • When great bodily injury results – a fine of not less than $5100 and not more than $10,100 and 30 days to 15 years in prison, and
  • When death results – a fine of not less than $10,100 and not more than $25,100 and one year to 25 years in prison.

DUI Penalties and Fines in South Carolina

The potential penalties for a DUI conviction in SC can be severe and long-lasting and could include:

  • Fines,
  • Prison time,
  • Community service hours,
  • License suspension,
  • License revocation as a habitual traffic offender,
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) requirements,
  • ADSAP requirements,
  • SR-22 insurance requirements,
  • Job loss and difficulty finding employment, and
  • A drunk driving conviction that can never be expunged.

The potential fines, jail time, license suspension period, and ignition interlock device (IDD) requirements are graduated – they increase based on the number of prior DUI convictions within the past ten years and the BAC result:

Charge BAC Level Potential fine (the actual amounts are much higher because the court will add court costs and assessments) Potential Jail Time Mandatory IID License Suspension
1st Offense DUI or DUAC < .10 Up to $400 48 hours to 30 days in jail None 6 months
1st Offense .10-.15 Up to $500 72 hours to 30 days in jail None 6 months
1st Offense >.15 Up to $1,000 30 days to 90 days in jail 6 months Ignition Interlock Device Program
2nd Offense <.10 $2,100-$5,100 5 days to one year in jail 2 years Ignition Interlock Device Program
2nd Offense .10-.15 $2,500-$5,500 30 days to two years in prison 2 years Ignition Interlock Device Program
2nd Offense >.15 $3,500-$6,500 90 days to three years in prison 2 years Ignition Interlock Device Program
3rd Offense <.10 $3,800-$6,300 60 days to three years in prison 3 years Ignition Interlock Device Program
3rd Offense .10-.15 $5,000-$7,500 90 days to four years in prison 3 years Ignition Interlock Device Program
3rd Offense >.15 $7,500-$10,000 Six months to five years in prison 3 years (4 if there is a previous conviction within the past five years) Ignition Interlock Device Program
4th or Subsequent Offense <.10 One to five years in prison Life Ignition Interlock Device Program
4th or Subsequent Offense .10-.15 Two to six years in prison Life Ignition Interlock Device Program
4th or Subsequent Offense >.15 Three to seven years in prison Life Ignition Interlock Device Program

Questions About DUI Charges in SC?

If you have been charged with DUI in Charleston, SC, get an experienced DUI defense lawyer on your side immediately who can answer your questions, begin preparing your defense, and ensure you do not miss important deadlines.

Call Kulp & Elliot now at 843-761-3840 or send us an email through our website to set up a free consultation to find out how we can help.

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