When you are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, you do not need to prove your innocence to avoid a conviction at trial. Instead, all you need to do is prevent prosecutors from proving that you are guilty. The prosecution has the burden of proving your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and if it cannot meet this burden you are entitled to walk free.
This is true even if you were driving under the influence when you got arrested.
But, even though the prosecution has the burden of proof, avoiding a DUI conviction is easier said than done. Prosecutors can use various forms of evidence to establish defendants’ guilt, and many prosecutors have spent their entire careers finding ways to win guilty verdicts at trial. If you are facing a DUI charge, there is one fundamental question you need to answer: How can you establish “reasonable doubt” in your South Carolina DUI case?
The Importance of Reasonable Doubt In a South Carolina DUI Case
The answer to this question is important for several reasons. First, it is important for deciding how to approach your DUI case. If you can prevent the prosecution from meeting its burden of proof, you may be able to secure a favorable plea deal—or you may even be able to get your DUI charge dismissed prior to trial. If you don’t think you will be able to establish “reasonable doubt” based on the circumstances at hand, then pursuing one of South Carolina’s diversion programs might be your best option.
If you need to take your DUI case to trial, knowing how to establish reasonable doubt will be fundamental to your defense. Even though the prosecution has the burden of proof, you will still need to present your side of the case to avoid a conviction (if it is possible to do so). Contrary to what you might read elsewhere online, there are no “tricks” to avoiding a DUI conviction, and there is nothing you can say or do that will automatically protect you from a “Guilty” verdict in court.
4 Ways It Might Be Possible to Establish Reasonable Doubt
So, how can you establish reasonable doubt as to whether you were driving under the influence? While every case is different, here are four ways it might be possible to avoid a conviction for your South Carolina DUI charge:
1. Challenging the Reliability of Your Breathalyzer Reading (Your BAC)
One option is to challenge the reliability of your breathalyzer reading. If you took the breath test and your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was above the legal limit, prosecutors will use this against you—unless you can show that the reading isn’t reliable. While these readings often are reliable, “false positives” are common as well. You don’t necessarily need to be able to prove that your BAC reading is inaccurate. If you can show that your reading could be inaccurate (i.e., because the police department’s calibration records for the breathalyzer device are incomplete), this can be enough to establish reasonable doubt.
But, it is important to keep in mind that prosecutors have two options for establishing guilt in drunk driving cases. To secure a conviction in court, they can prove that either (i) your BAC was over the legal limit, or (ii) your driving abilities were impaired. They do not need to prove both. So, while challenging the reliability of your breathalyzer reading might help with creating reasonable doubt, this won’t necessarily be sufficient on its own.
2. Challenging the Reliability of Your Field Sobriety Test Results
Similar considerations apply to your field sobriety test results. Unlike the breathalyzer, the field sobriety tests are not mandatory in South Carolina. But, if you consent to the field sobriety tests, then prosecutors can use your results against you.
Here, too, the focus is on identifying any way to call the reliability of your test results into question. Did your arresting officer follow all of the requisite procedures? Did he or she explain the tests to you properly? Did the officer properly interpret your performance on the field sobriety tests? These are just a few examples of several ways you may be able to challenge your field sobriety test results during your DUI case.
3. Keeping the Prosecution’s Evidence Out of Court
Another key defense strategy in many DUI cases involves fighting to keep the prosecution’s evidence out of court. Prosecutors need evidence to secure a conviction; and, the less evidence they have, the more difficult it is to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In many cases, keeping evidence out of court involves proving a violation of your constitutional rights. These rights apply while you are driving, while you are on the side of the road, and while you are awaiting trial. If the police stopped you without reasonable suspicion (i.e., if they racially profiled you), if they arrested you without probable cause, or if prosecutors have withheld exculpatory evidence, these could all justify a motion to exclude evidence from your trial.
4. Suggesting an Alternate Explanation for Your Driving
Establishing reasonable doubt in your South Carolina DUI case could also involve suggesting an alternate explanation for your driving. Just because you were swerving or speeding, this does not necessarily mean that you were drunk behind the wheel. There could be other explanations for your driving, and these alternate explanations could be enough to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether your driving abilities were alcohol-impaired. But, as discussed above, if your BAC was above the legal limit, this is a separate issue you will need to contend with as well.
Discuss Your Defense Strategy with an Experienced Rock Hill DUI Lawyer
Defending against a DUI charge in South Carolina is not easy, and there are several factors you will need to consider when deciding how best to approach your case. To discuss your defense strategy with an experienced Rock Hill DUI lawyer, call 803-328-8822 or request a free initial consultation online today.