If you were arrested for DUI in the state of South Carolina, it is likely you experienced a wide range of emotions. If you had never been in trouble with the law before, you might have felt frightened, embarrassed and anxious about what you would face after your arrest. Perhaps you felt angry because you were not the least bit impaired, and felt you were unfairly targeted. You may have ultimately felt extremely stressed about your future, and concerned about how a DUI conviction would affect your job, your family and your finances. All of these emotions are perfectly natural, however now is not the time to allow yourself to be paralyzed by indecision.
If you want to come out of your DUI charges with the best possible outcome, you must take swift action. Hiring a highly experienced Charleston DUI attorney is the single most important action you can take during this difficult time, as there are deadlines you simply cannot afford to miss. Remember this—the decisions you make right now will have a huge impact on your freedom, your reputation and your bank account. You may not think a DUI conviction would be that big a deal, but before you reach that (erroneous) conclusion, read on about South Carolina punishment and penalties for a DUI conviction.
What are the Differences between DUI and DWI in the State of South Carolina?
If you are older, you may be more familiar with the term DWI—driving while intoxicated. At one time, this was the accepted term across the United States. Then people started driving while under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol, and most states changed to the term DUI, or driving under the influence. “Influence” being either drugs (legal or illegal) or alcohol. Some states use the terms OWI (operating while intoxicated) or OUI (operating under the influence), but regardless of the acronym, the meaning is the same—your ability to control your motor vehicle was impaired.
Were You Actually “In Control” of Your Vehicle?
Like most people, you may be shocked to find out that you don’t actually have to be driving in order to be charged with DUI. South Carolina, like many other states, makes it a crime not only to drive under the influence, but to be in actual physical control of a vehicle and be under the influence. This means if you are in your car sleeping it off, but the keys to the vehicle are readily accessible to you, you could be deemed to be “in control” of the vehicle and could be charged with a DUI. Therefore, driving or operating—or sometimes just sitting or sleeping behind the wheel of a motor vehicle—or a motorcycle, tractor or golf cart—can result in your being placed in the back of a police cruiser and charged with DUI.
Criminal Penalties You May Face for a Charleston DUI Conviction
DUI penalties in the state of South Carolina can be harsh.
Anyone convicted of a DUI in South Carolina, whether it is a first offense or subsequent conviction, faces some amount of jail time. First offenders have a minimum sentence of 48 hours up to a maximum of 90 days in jail. The penalty for a second offense ranges from a minimum of five days to three years. Third and subsequent offenses carry jail terms ranging from 60 days to five years. As you can see, penalties for DUI in South Carolina are quite harsh – another reason it is highly recommended to consult with a DUI lawyer in Charleston as soon as possible.
In addition to jail time, those convicted of DUI face fines which increase in severity for multiple offenses. First-time offenders will pay a fine of $400 – $1000, while the maximum fine for third and subsequent offenses is $10,000. DUI convictions in South Carolina also come with the possibility of license suspension from 6 months to two years or a permanent forfeiture after the fourth offense. Your DUI lawyer in Charleston can help you to reduce these fines and jail times.
For a first offender who tests above the legal limit, but blows below a critical value of 0.15, you may be able to serve your time, pay your fine, and go about your life. However, those who are second offenders or those who blow 0.15 or higher on a breathalyzer will need to install a mandatory ignition interlock device for a period of no less than six months. This is a relatively recent addition to South Carolina DUI law, known as Emma’s Law, after Emma Longstreet, a six-year-old girl, was killed by a drunk driver.
Further Consequences of a DUI Conviction
You could lose many other personal freedoms if you are convicted of a DUI in the state of South Carolina. You might be unable to purchase a firearm, obtain a passport, work with children, obtain employment, obtain a government student loan, and you might not even be able to obtain a professional license you have worked hard for. It is also likely that your auto insurance premiums will go so high as to be unaffordable in some cases. Your insurance company might also drop you completely, making it extremely difficult to find another insurance company who will insure you.
Potential Defenses and Challenges to Your DUI Charges
Of course, the specific defense your DUI attorney will use on your behalf will depend on the circumstances of your DUI arrest, however some of the more commonly-used defenses to DUI charges include:
- Perhaps you weren’t actually driving, and the officer cannot prove you were “in control” of your vehicle—in other words, the issue might be debatable, based on the circumstances.
- The police officer may not have had legal justification to stop you in the first place.
- The police officer may not have followed proper legal procedures during your arrest. If this is the case, any evidence he or she garnered from the stop or arrest may be deemed inadmissible.
- The police officer had no probable cause to stop, detain or arrest you. Perhaps you believe you were stopped only because of your race or ethnicity, rather than because you were driving erratically or appeared to be intoxicated.
- The police officer who arrested you may not have properly Mirandized you after your arrest—that is, the officer may not have told you that you had the right to remain silent, and that anything you said would be used against you. If no Miranda warning was given, certain evidence may be excluded at trial.
- If the officer claims you had bloodshot eyes or slurred speech, you may be able to show those symptoms are from prescription medication you are taking, or from a medical condition.
- If the officer claims you did not do well on the field sobriety tests, you may be able to show you had a legitimate reason for that, such as an illness, your age, a medical condition, your footwear, your nervousness, confusing instructions from the officer, or a prescription drug or over the counter drug you are taking.
- The Breathalyzer machine used was not properly calibrated, or the officer who administered the test was not properly trained in using the machine.
How to Get Your License Reinstated Following a DUI Conviction
Beyond obtaining a hardship license to drive to and from work or other necessary places, once your revocation period is over, you will want to have your driver’s license reinstated. To complete reinstatement requirements, you must pay a $130 reinstatement fee and provide proof of financial responsibility for three years from the day of your revocation. If you are dealing with a second DUI conviction, you will be required to have an ignition interlock device placed on any vehicle you regularly drive before reinstatement.
Even if—or perhaps especially if—you have decided to plead guilty to your DUI, it could potentially change the way you are thinking to first speak to a knowledgeable DUI attorney. If nothing can change your mind about pleading guilty, then perhaps you don’t need an attorney, however if you want to vastly increase your chances of a more positive outcome to your DUI charges, you absolutely need an attorney. An experienced South Carolina DUI attorney can plea bargain on your behalf, possibly to a reckless driving charge or a “wet reckless.”
Since the penalties and consequences are much more lenient than for a DUI, this could be a good option for you, potentially even allowing you to save your driving privileges, while avoiding jail and very high fines. In addition to plea bargaining on your behalf, your attorney can also “sentence bargain.” This means you could plead guilty, but only if the prosecutor offers a lesser sentence. All in all, having an experienced South Carolina DUI defense attorney by your side from start to finish can make the process much less frightening. Your attorney will fight zealously on your behalf, ensuring your rights are fully protected throughout the process. Call South Carolina DUI defense lawyer, Joe Frick, at 1-208-914-6763 today or fill out the confidential contact form for more information.