In South Carolina, there are two main types of drunk driving charges. The first is driving under the influence (DUI). If your “faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired,” you can be charged with DUI regardless of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
The second type of drunk driving charge in South Carolina is driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC). This is what is known as a “per se” offense. If your BAC is above the legal limit of 0.08, you can be charged with DUAC even if your alcohol consumption has not “materially and appreciably impaired” your ability to drive.
Since a DUAC charge is based entirely on your BAC and not actual evidence of impairment, defending against a DUAC charge differs from defending against a DUI charge in several important ways. With this in mind, here’s what you need to know if you have been charged with DUAC in Rock Hill, SC:
1. It Doesn’t Matter if You Were Driving Safely
Since a DUAC charge only takes into consideration your BAC, it doesn’t matter if you were driving safely. This is based on Section 56-5-2933(A) of the South Carolina Code of Laws, which states:
“It is unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle within this State while his alcohol concentration is eight one-hundredths of one percent or more. A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of the offense of driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration and, upon conviction, entry of a plea of guilty or of nolo contendere, or forfeiture of bail must be punished [according to the law].”
As you can see, if your BAC was 0.08 or above, this alone is enough to establish guilt for DUAC. So, while you might have been perfectly capable of driving your vehicle safely, this won’t serve as a defense in your DUAC case.
2. It Doesn’t Matter if You “Passed” the Field Sobriety Tests
It also doesn’t matter if you “passed” the field sobriety tests (FSTs). In fact, if you submitted to the FSTs (which isn’t required in South Carolina) and you were charged with DUAC instead of DUI, this is probably because of the fact that you did not show any signs of alcohol intoxication.
But, again, even though you may not have been impaired, this doesn’t matter when you get charged with DUAC. Instead, as discussed below, your defense strategy will need to focus on challenging the legality of your traffic stop and/or the validity of your BAC reading.
3. DUI and DUAC Carry the Same Penalties in South Carolina
Despite the fact that a DUAC charge does not require evidence of impairment, a DUAC carries the same penalties as a DUI in South Carolina. This means that for a “standard” offense (involving a BAC of 0.08 to 0.10 and no accident), a conviction could mean:
- First Offense – A $400 fine, assessments and surcharges, 48 hours to 30 days in jail, and a six-month driver’s license suspension.
- Second Offense – A $2,100 to $5,100 fine, assessments and surcharges, five days to 12 months of jail time, and a one-year driver’s license suspension.
- Third Offense – A $3,800 to $6,300 fine, assessments and surcharges, 60 days to three years in jail, and a two to four-year driver’s license suspension.
- Fourth or Subsequent Offense – Court-determined fines, assessments, and surcharges; one to five years of jail time; and permanent revocation of your driver’s license.
4. What Happened During Your Traffic Stop is Extremely Important
Given that you cannot defend against a DUAC by arguing lack of impairment, your defense strategy needs to focus elsewhere. In many cases, this means arguing that your traffic stop was unlawful. If the arresting officer lacked “reasonable suspicion” to pull you over, for example, then your BAC test result may be inadmissible in court. As a result, it is important to write down every detail you can remember and to go over your traffic stop from start to finish with your defense attorney.
5. There are a Number of Ways to Defend Against a DUAC Charge
In addition to challenging the legality of your traffic stop, there are a number of other potential defenses to a South Carolina DUAC charge. For example, it may also be possible to avoid a conviction by arguing that:
- The Arresting Officer Failed to Explain Your Rights – Before administering a breath test during a drunk driving traffic stop, the arresting officer is required to explain your rights under South Carolina’s implied consent law. If the arresting officer did not explain your rights, this could provide a defense to your DUAC.
- The Breathalyzer Device Wasn’t Calibrated – Breathalyzer devices require careful calibration in order to produce reliable BAC readings (and even with proper calibration, they still don’t always provide accurate results). If the device the arresting officer used during your traffic stop wasn’t calibrated, then your BAC reading may be inadmissible in court.
- The Arresting Officer Didn’t Administer the Breath Test Properly – If the arresting officer didn’t administer the breath test properly, this could also make your BAC reading inadmissible. State and local police must follow specific protocols when administering breath tests in order to ensure that suspects’ BAC readings are reliable (or as reliable as possible).
- There is a Lawful Explanation for Your High BAC – Drinking alcohol isn’t the only thing that can cause a high BAC reading. For example, if you had acid reflux or GERD, if you had recently taken a medication, or even if you had recently used mouthwash or a breath mint, this could explain your over-the-limit BAC.
- Your Blood or Urine Sample was (Possibly) Contaminated – If you took a blood or urine test instead of a breath test, the prosecutor must be able to prove that your sample wasn’t contaminated. If there is any chance that it was contaminated, then your attorney might be able to keep it out of court.
Facing a DUAC Charge in Rock Hill, SC? Talk to a Defense Lawyer Today
If you face a DUAC charge in Rock Hill, you should promptly talk to a DUI defense lawyer. To find out what defenses you can use to fight your South Carolina DUAC, call 803-328-8822 or request a confidential consultation online now.