If you are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, you need to make smart decisions about your defense strategy. While there are a variety of potential defenses to a DUI charge, not all defenses are available in all cases. Additionally, even if you have multiple defenses available, it could make sense to focus on a single defense that will resonate with the prosecutor, judge, or jury.
This raises a key question: What is the best defense to a DUI in South Carolina? If you are going to focus on one strategy to prevent the government from meeting its burden of proof, which strategy should you use?
The Best Defense to a DUI Depends on the Circumstances At Hand
While it would be nice if there was one defense that worked in all DUI cases, this simply isn’t realistic. In DUI cases, the facts matter, and the defenses you have available will depend heavily on the facts of your case. As a result, there is not one single DUI defense that is “the best” in all scenarios.
Instead, there are several relevant considerations.
For example, one key factor to keep in mind is that the government has two ways to prove a DUI charge in South Carolina. Under South Carolina’s DUI laws, prosecutors can secure a conviction by proving that either: (i) your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was above the legal limit; or, (ii) your “faculties to drive a motor vehicle [were] materially and appreciably impaired.” They do not need to prove both.
This means that even if you are able to successfully challenge your BAC reading (assuming you took the breath test), you could still be convicted based on other evidence of impairment. Likewise, even if there is no evidence that your faculties were impaired, if your BAC was 0.08 percent or above (if you’re 21 or older), this is enough for prosecutors to seek—and win—a guilty verdict in court.
The Best Defenses Are Those that Protect You Completely
With this in mind, one way to approach the question of, “Which DUI defense is best?” is to focus on defenses that protect you completely. These are defenses that protect you regardless of your BAC and regardless of whether the government has any other evidence of impairment. Some examples of these types of defenses include:
1. The Police Stopped You Illegally
To conduct a legal traffic stop, the police must have “reasonable suspicion” that you are guilty of a crime or traffic violation. This protection exists under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The “reasonable suspicion” requirement prohibits the police from stopping you without cause—and it also prohibits the police from stopping you based on your color, race, sex, or any other personal trait.
If the police stop you without reasonable suspicion, then all of the evidence obtained following your traffic stop was obtained unconstitutionally. This means that you have the right to have this evidence excluded (or “suppressed”) from your DUI case. If prosecutors do not have any evidence that they can use, then they cannot prove that you are guilty of DUI.
2. You Were Denied Your Right to an Attorney
You may also be able to suppress the government’s evidence against you if the police denied your right to an attorney. If you requested to speak with an attorney during your DUI stop, the police may have been required to grant your request. If the police were required to grant your request and failed to do so, this could render all of the evidence obtained after your request inadmissible in court.
3. You Weren’t Driving
A third, and very different, type of defense that can protect you regardless of your BAC and your level of impairment is the defense that you weren’t driving. South Carolina’s DUI law specifically states that it is illegal “to drive a motor vehicle” while intoxicated or impaired. So, if you weren’t driving, then it doesn’t matter how much you had to drink.
In some states, you can be convicted of DUI if you are in the driver’s seat with the key. Some states even allow for conviction if you are passed out in the driver’s seat while parked. But, in South Carolina, this is not the case. South Carolina’s DUI law specifically requires you to be “driving,” and the courts have interpreted this as meaning that your vehicle must be in motion.
How Not to Defend Against a DUI Charge in South Carolina
While these defenses can help you avoid a DUI conviction completely, there are also “defenses” that completely do not work. When facing a DUI charge, you need to be careful to avoid relying on these “defenses” that don’t actually protect you.
You also need to avoid the mistake of only defending against half of the government’s case. As we discussed above, prosecutors in South Carolina can secure a DUI conviction based on a high BAC or evidence of impairment. If you defend against one of these but not the other, you can still get convicted of DUI.
Your Next Steps When Facing a DUI in South Carolina
Given everything we’ve discussed, what are your next steps if you are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina? At this point, the best thing you can do is discuss your case with an experienced defense lawyer. You need to know what defenses you have available, and you need to make an informed decision about which defense (or defenses) you assert. Making this decision requires insights that only come with years of experience handling plea negotiations and fighting DUI charges in court.
Discuss Your DUI Case with Attorney Michael L. Brown, Jr.
Attorney Michael L. Brown, Jr. has years of experience defending clients against DUI charges in Rock Hill, SC. If you are facing a DUI charge, he can help protect you. To discuss your case with Mr. Brown in a free and confidential consultation, call 803-328-8822 or tell us how we can reach you online now.