When Should You Plead “No Contest” to a DUI in South Carolina?

by | May 1, 2024 | DUI Lawyer

When you are facing a driving under the influence (DUI) charge in South Carolina, one of the first steps in your case will be going to court for your initial appearance. During your initial appearance, the judge will ask you how you want to plead. At this stage, you have three options: You can plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.”

As we have previously discussed, pleading guilty is seldom a good idea. But, what about pleading “no contest”? How is this different from pleading guilty, and should you ever plead “no contest” after a DUI arrest?

“Guilty” vs. “No Contest” in a South Carolina DUI Case

When you plead guilty to DUI, you are admitting to driving under the influence. Your guilty plea will result in a conviction, and you will be subject to all of the penalties that DUIs carry under South Carolina law. While an experienced DUI defense lawyer may be able to help you avoid some of these penalties, there are no guarantees, and the judge won’t go easy on you simply because you accepted responsibility.

Pleading “no contest” has similar consequences. When you plead “no contest,” you accept responsibility without either admitting or denying that you were drunk behind the wheel. Your plea still results in a conviction—and you are still subject to the same penalties that you would have faced had you pled guilty instead.

Why, then, would you ever plead “no contest” to a DUI?

The short answer is that you shouldn’t plead “no contest” in most cases. For the vast majority of defendants, the better approach will be to enter a “not guilty” plea and then either: (i) negotiate a plea bargain; or, (ii) fight their DUI in court. When you are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, there is no downside to pleading “not guilty.” You are well within your rights to do so, and the judge cannot penalize you for exercising your legal rights. It allows you to fight, and you owe it to yourself to fight your DUI by all means available.

With that said, there is one potential benefit to entering a “no contest” plea in a South Carolina DUI case. If you plead “no contest,” your conviction cannot be used against you if you get sued. So, if you caused an accident while driving drunk, entering a “no contest” plea might make sense—though this still isn’t necessarily the case. As we mentioned already, pleading “no contest” still has serious consequences; and, as we discuss below, there are several ways to fight a DUI charge even if you were drunk behind the wheel.

Defending Against a DUI Charge When You Were Driving Drunk

Deciding to accept responsibility after a DUI arrest (whether through a plea bargain or a “no contest” plea) requires a clear and comprehensive understanding of the facts of your case. Even if you got caught driving after you had been drinking, you may still have several strong defenses available. For example:

Police Miscues Might Mean Prosecutors Don’t Have Enough Evidence to Prove Your Guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In South Carolina DUI cases, prosecutors have the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means they need clear evidence that you were drunk or impaired behind the wheel. If the police made mistakes during or after your arrest (i.e., if they failed to record your traffic stop or mishandled your breathalyzer results), prosecutors might not have the evidence they need to convict you.

The Prosecution’s Evidence Against You Might Be Unreliable

Several issues can render evidence in a DUI case unreliable. For example, let’s say you took the breathalyzer (which you are required to do under South Carolina’s “implied consent” law). Was the breathalyzer device properly calibrated? Was it in good working order? Did the arresting officer correctly explain how to provide a breath sample? Did your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rise after you got pulled over? Is there an alternate explanation for your high BAC? All of these are issues that could call your BAC reading into question—and that could prevent prosecutors from meeting their burden of proof.

The Prosecution’s Evidence Against You Might Be Inadmissible

Prosecutors will also be unable to prove your guilt if their evidence is inadmissible in court. Evidence in a South Carolina DUI case can be rendered inadmissible for several reasons. For example, if the police pulled you over without reasonable suspicion or arrested you without probable cause, the prosecution’s evidence could be inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment. Or, if the arresting officer failed to read your Miranda rights, any statements you made after you were placed in custody could be inadmissible under the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. There are other possibilities as well, and an experienced DUI defense lawyer will be able to examine all possible options for keeping the prosecution’s evidence out of court.

You Might Not Have Violated South Carolina’s DUI Law

Finally, even if you were drinking before you got behind the wheel, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you violated South Carolina’s DUI law. To secure a conviction, prosecutors must be able to prove that either: (i) your BAC was over the legal limit while you were driving; or, (ii) your ability to drive was impaired by your alcohol consumption. If your BAC was still below the legal limit while you were driving (when you drink, your BAC doesn’t spike right away) and you were fully capable of driving unsafely, then you weren’t driving under the influence—and you do not deserve to face any consequences as a result of your arrest.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Rock Hill, SC DUI Lawyer for Free

Are you thinking about pleading “no contest” to a DUI in South Carolina? If so, we strongly encourage you to contact us first. To discuss your case with an experienced Rock Hill, SC DUI lawyer in confidence, call us at 803-328-8822 or request a free consultation online today.

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