Last year, we wrote about our tips for avoiding a DUI charge during the holiday season. But, what if it’s too late? What if you got pulled over during the holidays and you are now at risk for having a DUI conviction on your permanent record?
Facing a DUI charge in South Carolina is a very serious matter. In South Carolina, a DUI charge can lead to both administrative and criminal penalties, and the impacts of a conviction can extend to virtually all aspects of your life. Getting into school, getting around town, finding a job, keeping a job, and protecting your parental rights during a divorce or custody dispute are all harder with a DUI on your record. When you add in the financial costs, a DUI conviction can truly be a life-altering experience.
Here’s What You Need to Know if You Need to Fight a Holiday DUI
When faced with a DUI charge, the most important thing you need to know is that it is up to you to protect yourself. The prosecutor’s office is going to pursue your case, and the judge isn’t going to go easy on you because you got pulled over during the holidays. Driving drunk is dangerous. It is against the law. These facts don’t change with the seasons, and prosecutors and judges have an obligation to penalize those who break the law while putting others in harm’s way.
Here are seven more key facts about facing a DUI charge in South Carolina:
Key Fact #1: You Might Not Be Guilty.
You were arrested for DUI. An arrest is not a conviction, and it is not a finding of guilt. While the police rightfully pull over drivers who are under the influence, they also arrest people who are not actually guilty of DUI.
Do you take medications? Was there a long period of time between your traffic stop and your breath test? Could the breathalyzer have been improperly calibrated? Were you tired driving home late from a family gathering or holiday party? Do you have a medical condition? These are all possible explanations for driving behavior or a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reading that might not actually be indicative of drunk driving. There are numerous other factors that can explain unusual driving patterns, high BAC, blood shot eyes, slurred speech, and other common indicators of drunk driving as well.
Key Fact #2: Even If You Were Driving Under the Influence, You StillMight Have Defenses Available.
Let’s say none of the above defenses apply in your case. You were driving drunk, and you know it. Even if this is the case, you could still have several defenses in your South Carolina DUI case.
As a South Carolina resident, you have fundamental rights. The police cannot stop you without reasonable suspicion, and they cannot arrest you without probable cause. The police also cannot question you in custody without reading your Miranda rights. If the police violated any of your rights during your traffic stop or after your arrest, you may be able to use this to avoid a DUI conviction.
Key Fact #3: In South Carolina, DUIs Carry Administrative and Criminal Penalties.
As we mentioned above, DUIs carry two types of penalties in South Carolina: administrative and criminal. Administrative penalties are imposed by the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and include driver’s license suspension, financial penalties, and mandatory alcohol counseling. If you are convicted at trial, you can face additional fines and up to 30 days in jail for a first-time offense.
Key Fact #4: Your BAC Isn’t the Only Evidence Against You.
You got pulled over, you took the breathalyzer test, and you blew below the legal limit (which is 0.08 percent for adults in South Carolina). But, you were still charged with DUI. Or, maybe you are convinced that the breathalyzer test wasn’t administered properly. Does this mean it is case closed?
Unfortunately, not. While breathalyzer test results are a key piece of evidence in many South Carolina DUI cases, they are by no means the only source of evidence available to the prosecution. From the arresting officer’s observations (or dash cam video) to your performance on the field sobriety tests, there are various other types of evidence that can be used to prove that you were driving drunk. Additionally, while driving with a BAC of 0.08 or above is considered DUI per se, you do not have to be above the legal limit in order to be guilty of DUI.
Key Fact #5: Mistakes Can Be Incredibly Costly.
When dealing with a DUI charge, mistakes can be incredibly costly. In some cases, mistakes can not only significantly reduce the chances of asserting a successful defense, but they can even increase the penalties that are on the table (i.e. if you get arrested for DUI again while your case is pending). As a defendant in the South Carolina criminal justice system, it is critical that you have a clear understanding of the mistakes you need to avoid.
Key Fact #6: You Could Be Facing Charges in Addition to Your DUI.
In addition to facing a DUI charge, many individuals who are pulled over for drunk driving in South Carolina will face additional charges as well. For example, if you refused the breath test (or if the arresting officer thought you refused the breath test), you could be charged with an implied consent violation. South Carolina also has open container laws that impose fines and up to 30 days of jail time for first-time offenders.
Key Fact #7: You Need a Lawyer.
If you are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, you need a DUI lawyer. You need to protect yourself by all means available, and this means hiring a lawyer who can use his or her experience to defend you effectively. Read our tips for choosing a DUI defense attorney: How to Find a Lawyer for DUI Charges in SC.