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DUI / Drunk Driving
DUI is a complex area of law, with many legal and factual issues including the science of alcohol testing, the administration of field sobriety tests, and the effects of physical conditions caused by illnesses or medications. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) not only refers to drunk driving but also to driving under the influence of illegal drugs.
Effective DUI defense requires a knowledge of the ever-changing DUI laws in SC and the many appellate opinions interpreting the DUI laws. It includes:
- Conducting an independent investigation;
- Getting evidence from the prosecutor or officer;
- Gathering our own evidence from witnesses and law enforcement;
- Pretrial motions to exclude evidence or to have the court dismiss your case; and
- Experience trying DUI cases to a jury.
First offense DUI charges are usually heard in the magistrate or municipal courts, while second or third offense DUI or felony DUI are heard in General Sessions Court. The types of DUI offenses in SC include:
- Driving under the influence (traditional DUI);
- Driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC – SC’s per-se statute);
- Felony DUI resulting in either injury or death; and
- SC’s “zero tolerance” law which applies only to minors.
It is not illegal in South Carolina to drink and drive.
We've all seen the ads on the television touting the slogans, "you drink and drive, you lose," "sober or slammer," or "Zero tolerance is the law." Certainly, no-one should be behind the wheel if they are intoxicated to the extent that they cannot safely operate their vehicle. But, contrary to the beliefs of some law enforcement officers, it is not against the law simply to have a drink and then drive.
To convict you of driving under the influence, the State must prove beyond any reasonable doubt: that you were driving, and that while you were driving you were intoxicated to the extent that your ability to drive was materially and substantially impaired.
Every DUI trial lawyer should tell the jury that it is not illegal to drink and drive in SC in their opening statement and seek a jury instruction from the court that says the same.Defenses to DUI Charges in SC
Although your theory of defense will depend on the unique circumstances of your case, there are some defenses that are common in SC DUI trials:
- Suchenski violations: SC’s DUI laws contain mandatory provisions including videotaping the complete field sobriety tests and reading Miranda rights to you on the video – if the officer does not comply with SC’s DUI laws including the videotape requirements, your case should be dismissed before the trial begins.
- Violations of policy and procedure: When the officer does not follow SLED’s policies regarding the breathalyzer, blood tests, or other evidence collection, the breath test results or other evidence may be suppressed at your trial. Although this may result in a dismissal or reduction in charges, the state may be able to go forward to trial relying on other evidence like the officer’s observations.
- I wasn’t driving: If you were not driving, you are not guilty of “driving under the influence.” Unlike other states that have “operating under the influence” statutes, it is not enough to be sitting in the car or simply using the car radio when the officer arrives – there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving the vehicle.
- I wasn’t drunk: If the state cannot prove that your ability to drive was materially and appreciably impaired, you are not guilty of DUI. In some cases, we can show that the breathalyzer result was inaccurate using expert testimony. In others, we may be able to suppress the breath or blood test results. Whenever possible, we will use “sobriety witnesses” who can testify as to their observations of your level of intoxication and ability to drive.
You can find more information on SC DUI laws on our website:
- Elements of a DUI Case
- Consequences of a DUI Conviction
- DUI Expert Witnesses
- Implied Consent – Administrative License Suspension
Attorneys Lacey Thompson and Laura Hiller practice exclusively in the criminal courts, including DUI defense in the magistrate, municipal, and General Sessions courts.
If you have been charged with DUI in South Carolina, you have the right to a jury trial. Considering the severe consequences of a DUI conviction, you can and should fight the charges. Call the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm at (843) 444-6122 or contact us online for more information about how we can help.