When you are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, you have three primary options: You can plead guilty, you can fight your charge, or you can seek to have your charge reduced. Pleading guilty to DUI is rarely (if ever) the best option, but seeking a reduced charge and pleading guilty to a lesser offense can be an advisable defense strategy in some cases.
What Does It Mean to Plead to a Reduced Charge in a DUI Case?
Pleading to a reduced charge in a DUI case is just like it sounds: Instead of pleading guilty to DUI or fighting your DUI charge in court, you resolve your case by pleading guilty to an offense that is less serious than DUI.
Typically, this means pleading guilty to reckless driving. Unlike many states, South Carolina does not have a “wet reckless” statute. But, in many cases, prosecutors will be willing to negotiate defendants’ DUI charges down to ordinary reckless driving. While having a reckless driving conviction on your record is still far from ideal, it is significantly less consequential than living your life with a DUI conviction.
Why Should You Consider Pleading to a Reduced Charge in a DUI Case?
Why might you consider pleading guilty to a reduced charge (i.e., reckless driving) in a South Carolina DUI case? When pleading to a lesser offense is warranted, it offers several benefits:
1. Reckless Driving Carries Reduced Fines
The fines for reckless driving in South Carolina are significantly less than the fines for DUI. As a result, pleading to a reduced charge of reckless driving instead of pleading guilty to DUI (or being found guilty of DUI in court) can significantly reduce the financial costs of your arrest.
2. A Reckless Driving Conviction Won’t Increase Your Insurance Rates As Much
While a reckless driving conviction will increase your auto insurance rates, it won’t increase your auto insurance rates as much as a DUI conviction. So, if you cannot avoid a conviction entirely, then pleading to a reckless driving charge could save you costs here as well.
3. A Reckless Driving Conviction Won’t Have As Many Practical Consequences
Similarly, while a DUI conviction can have several practical consequences, the practical consequences of a reckless driving conviction are significantly less severe. A reckless driving conviction won’t disqualify you from as many job opportunities, and reckless driving convictions typically have less of an impact on education, housing, financing, and other aspects of your life.
4. You Won’t Face Prosecution as a Repeat Offender if You Get Arrested for DUI Again
Under South Carolina law, if you get arrested for DUI when you already have a DUI conviction on your record, a second conviction carries enhanced penalties. But, if you get arrested for DUI when you have a reckless driving conviction on your record, you will still be prosecuted as a first-time offender.
5. Accepting a Plea Avoids the Inherent Uncertainty of a DUI Trial
Finally, accepting a plea deal avoids the inherent uncertainty of a DUI trial. Regardless of the facts of your case, there is always a chance that you could be found guilty in court. While there are lots of ways an experienced DUI defense lawyer can fight to protect you (including ways to fight your DUI charge if you were driving drunk), there are no guarantees at trial.
When Should You Consider Pleading to a Reduced Charge in a DUI Case?
So, that covers why you might consider pleading to a reduced charge in a DUI case. Now, when does it make sense to seek a plea deal instead of fighting your DUI in court? Depending on the circumstances of your case, it might make sense to plead to a reduced charge if:
1. You Blew Above the Legal Limit
A high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reading can be strong evidence of guilt in a South Carolina DUI case. While there are several ways to challenge a BAC reading, these options aren’t available in all cases. If it looks like prosecutors will be able to use your BAC against you, then a plea deal might be your best option.
2. There Is No Question You Were Driving Drunk
Along with a high BAC, there are various other ways prosecutors can prove that someone was drunk behind the wheel. If there is no question that you were driving drunk—regardless of the type of evidence prosecutors have against you—it could be in your best interests to negotiate a plea.
3. You Don’t Have Grounds to Challenge Your Traffic Stop or Arrest
Fourth Amendment violations during traffic stops and arrests can entitle DUI defendants to the suppression of incriminating evidence at trial. Asserting your Fourth Amendment rights can be a key defense strategy in many cases. But, if the police didn’t violate your rights, then this isn’t an option you have available.
4. You Don’t Have Grounds to Challenge Your Field Sobriety Test (FST) Results
Did you take the field sobriety tests (FSTs) during your DUI stop? If so, prosecutors may be able to use your FST results against you as well. Here, too, there are various defense options available, but it won’t be possible to challenge your FST results in all circumstances.
5. You Are Likely to Get Convicted of DUI if You Go To Trial
Ultimately, deciding whether to accept a plea deal requires an assessment of your likelihood of success at trial. If you have strong grounds to fight your DUI, then your defense attorney may recommend fighting in court. But, if you are facing a high risk of conviction based on the circumstances of your case, then your lawyer may recommend against taking your chances at trial.
Discuss Your Case with a Rock Hill DUI Lawyer for Free
If you are facing a DUI charge, we strongly recommend that you speak with a lawyer before making any decisions about your case. For a free and confidential consultation with a Rock Hill DUI lawyer, call 803-328-8822 or get in touch online now.