The True Cost of a DUI in South Carolina

by Timothy Kulp

I’m often asked, “How much does it cost for a DUI case?” Most of our DUI clients have never been charged with anything more than a speeding ticket and have had no prior experience with lawyers. It’s understandable that those who find themselves arrested for DUI haven’t a clue about a primary issue–how much this unexpected event might cost them. Surely, it is not something they have budgeted or saved for.

The short answer is: “It depends.”

Every DUI case is different. And there isn’t a one-size-fits-all price. Each case brings unique challenges and issues that may directly impact the outcome of a case.

As with any product or service, prices vary from attorney to attorney. Legal fees, in particular, are regulated by ethical rules found in the South Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct. These rules provide that a fee must be reasonable and are based on several factors, including:

  • Time and labor
  • Novelty and difficulty of the services involved
  • Skill required to perform the legal service properly
  • Experience, reputation and ability of the lawyer performing the services

At Kulp & Elliott, the legal fee for a DUI case is almost always a flat fee. This means that after a free, extensive initial consultation, I will quote a potential client a flat legal fee to represent them. The fee agreement is put in writing and signed by me and the client.

The DUI flat fee includes:

  • Complete representation on the DUI and associated charges from beginning to end
  • Representation on administrative issues that arise from the underlying DUI arrest (if the client’s license is suspended at the time of breath testing due to a refusal to blow or reading greater than .15) and/or
  • Assistance with expungement in SC for dismissed charges

Note: Our flat fee does not cover any appellate work or retrial if a case ends in a mistrial and has to be tried over again.

Whether you choose Kulp & Elliott or another lawyer, the legal fee isn’t the only “cost” that needs to be considered. But an experienced DUI lawyer’s goal is to avoid any and all additional costs for the client.

Expenses for Experts

Though it’s not common, the defense of your case may require one or more expert witnesses at trial. For example, there are experts who can testify to the accuracy and operation of South Carolina’s breath test machine (the Intoximeter DMT). There are also experts who specialize in field sobriety tests.

Should this become necessary, there is a cost associated with securing experts. I will discuss this and the cost with you before doing anything. And you will always have the final say.

Expungement Costs

An expungement is a court order that requires all records and evidence associated with an arrest to be destroyed. This order is eventually passed along to South Carolina Law Enforcement (SLED) and the FBI.

A DUI charge can only be expunged if the ticket is dismissed or if a jury trial renders a “Not Guilty” verdict. If charges are dropped, there is NO fee to have those charges expunged from your record.

Conviction Costs

Sometimes, despite a lawyer’s best efforts, a guilty ruling cannot be avoided. And it’s important you’re prepared for potential costs involved if this is the case.

Often, clients ask me for best and worst-case scenarios if they’re found guilty. They’re usually not prepared for the potential costs that come from a conviction. Fines vary based on if you have prior offenses and your BAC level, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Worst case scenario: you’re looking at not only hefty fines, but jail time.

Penalties/Fines/Jail Time

The consequences of your DUI case depend on the case’s circumstances, with outcomes ranging from fines to jail time. Remember, each case is different.

You can find more about penalties, fines and jail time in one of our latest articles.

SR-22 Insurance

If you’re convicted of DUI, your insurance rate will be higher for the next three years. This is called SR-22 insurance, commonly referred to as “assigned risk,” and it’s a result of the driver’s license suspension from your DUI conviction.

SR-22 isn’t limited to DUI convictions — it’s also required for other convictions that result in license suspensions, including points on your license, leaving the scene of an accident, driving while your license is suspended, and other violations.


If you’re convicted of DUI and it’s your first offense, you’re required to enroll in the Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP) within 30 days. That program must be completed within a year. Enrollment costs are about $500 plus fees for required treatment.

(In the Charleston area, the ADSAP offices are located off Courtney Drive near the Charleston Center.)

Bail and Bond

If you’re arrested for DUI, you may receive a personal recognizance (PR) bond. This means you are released from jail on your own “recognizance” without a requirement putting up money or property as collateral to secure your to return to court. A judge sets the bond, and it can vary widely based on charges. A bonding judge will consider the circumstances of your case before setting a bond amount. Click here to learn more about the bonding process.

Ignition Interlock Device Program

A law that went into effect October 1, 2014 — known as Emma’s Law — now requires anyone convicted of DUI with a BAC of .15 or higher to enroll in the Ignition Interlock Device Program (IIDP). This program requires you to keep a device in your vehicle that won’t let your car start if you’ve been drinking.

The IIDP is mandatory for DUI first offense with a BAC of .15 or higher, as well as second and subsequent DUI convictions.

If your DUI conviction requires the IIDP, the monthly cost for the device is your responsibility. Monthly costs range between $75 and $100, excluding a $30 monthly fee paid to the state of South Carolina and a $50 installation fee.

If you’re convicted of a first offense DUI with a refusal or BAC under .15, you can enroll in the IIDP in lieu of your six-month license suspension. You must complete a minimum of three months in the IIDP.

The penalties for driving without a device are:

  • First Offense: guilty of misdemeanor upon conviction, minimum $1,000 fine or maximum one year imprisonment, extended by six months on IIDP
  • Second Offense: guilty of misdemeanor upon conviction, minimum $5,000 fine or maximum three years imprisonment, extended to one year on IIDP
  • Third Offense: guilty of felony upon conviction, minimum $10,000 fine or maximum 10 years imprisonment, extended three years on IIDP

While this article may have answered some of your questions, it’s likely you still have more. Would you like to speak with a Charleston DUI attorney who has handled hundreds of DUI cases and can bring that experience to your case?

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Contact Timothy Kulp to discuss your situation.

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