Drunk driving is an activity to be avoided because of the risk of a tragic accident, but millions of people are arrested for DUI annually. The prospect of losing your driver’s license, paying significant fines and other costs, and spending time in custody can be frightening. Suspension of your driver’s license also might make obtaining employment, or keeping your job, extremely difficult. The damage to your personal and professional reputation could affect career prospects and rental housing options. While the best way to protect your rights and future is to retain an experienced Greenville DUI defense lawyer, this blog outlines common South Carolina DUI driver’s license issues.
License Suspension and Administrative Hearing
If you are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in South Carolina, your driver’s license will be suspended even for a first offense. DUI cases often involve an administrative case and a legal case. Although either or both cases could result in a driver’s license suspension, the driver’s license consequences of these two components of a DUI case are distinct and independent. Even if you are acquitted of DUI at trial, the loss of your driving privileges arising from an administrative DMV suspension will remain in full force and effect though you might qualify for a provisional license.
Drivers face an administrative suspension of their driver’s license if they violate the South Carolina implied consent law (SC Code 56-5-2950). The law provides in pertinent part that “a person who drives a motor vehicle in [South Carolina] is considered to have given consent to chemical tests of his breath, blood, or urine for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol or drugs . . .” if he or she is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.
If a driver arrested for DUI refuses to submit to a chemical test of BAC level after a lawful arrest, his or her driver’s license will be suspended. While many people are aware that they will suffer a driver’s license suspension in this situation, fewer people know that an administrative suspension for a breath test refusal (or failure to produce enough breath for a valid test) will result in loss of your driving privilege even though you are acquitted at trial. Motorists who blow a .15 or higher also will be subject to an administrative driver’s license suspension.
Duration of Administrative Driver’s License Suspensions
The duration of the administrative license suspension will depend on the grounds for the suspension and any prior DUI convictions during the preceding ten years. A motorist with a .15 percent BAC or higher faces a DMV license suspension of a least 30 days. When a person violates the implied consent law, the driver’s license suspension typically will be six (6) months for a first offense, and the duration of the suspension increases for subsequent convictions.
Request for Administrative Hearing for a Refusal
If you refuse to participate in a breath test or fail to provide an adequate sample, the officer will provide you with a Notice of Suspension. If you hold a South Carolina driver’s license, the officer will take your license and turn it over to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The Notice of Suspension (blue form) will provide the easiest way to request a hearing to challenge the license suspension, which must be accompanied by a $200 fee.
Once your hearing request has been received, the DMV will assess your eligibility for a temporary alcohol restricted license (TARL). If you qualify for a TARL, the temporary license will apply until the hearing officer renders a decision after your administrative hearing. IMPORTANT: Time is of the essence in submitting your request for a hearing to the Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings because a 30-day deadline applies. If you fail to submit a timely hearing request, the suspension will remain in effect.
While you are free to represent yourself at the hearing, you reap certain advantages by retaining legal representation. Our experienced Greenville DUI defense lawyers have handled many DMV license hearings, so we have a thorough understanding of the relevant issues, evidence, and procedures. When we represent clients at DMV hearings, we also take the opportunity to review the evidence gathered by the officer that will be used against you and to cross-examine the officer. This preview of the prosecutor’s evidence allows us to start constructing an effective defense strategy for negotiations and trial.
What Constitutes DUI in South Carolina?
Although it is not unusual to panic when being stopped by a police officer after you have had a drink, there is no law that prohibits this conduct. In South Carolina like most states, there are two forms of drunk driving that can subject you to criminal DUI charges. Section 56-5-2930 makes it a crime to drive a vehicle when an individual’s “faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired” by drugs, alcohol, or both. In simple terms, this form of drunk driving can be thought of as “bad driving DUI.” A prosecutor can pursue this DUI charge even without a chemical test of the motorist’s BAC level based on evidence of poor driving, physical signs of intoxication, and poor performance on field sobriety tests.
The other form of “drunk driving” under South Carolina law involves driving with an unlawful drug alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher (DUAC) under Section 56-5-2933. Motorists can be prosecuted for DUAC even if their driving is flawless though the arresting officer must still have a lawful basis for the stop. This form of “drunk driving” is sometimes referred to as a “per se” offense because a driver can be convicted merely for driving with a BAC level above the statutory threshold. If the driver is under the age of 21, the law prohibits driving with a BAC of .02 percent or higher.
Penalties for DUI and DUAC in South Carolina
The same penalties apply for both forms of DUI, but the offenses are mutually exclusively, so a driver will only be convicted for one of the offenses.
The criminal penalties for a conviction of DUI or DUAC, which are additional to any administrative license suspension, include the following for the 1st offense with a BAC below .10 percent:
- Minimum jail time of 48 hours
- Maximum jail time up to 30 days
- $400 fine
- and/or 48 hours of community service
These penalties rise substantially for subsequent offenses. A second offense with the same BAC level, for example, will expose a motorist to the following penalties:
- Minimum 5 days in jail
- Maximum of one year in jail
- Fine ranging from $2,100 to $5,100
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) or a 3-year license suspension
Seeking Driver’s License Reinstatement
Once the criminal penalties and driver’s license suspension have been satisfied, a motorist’s will have to file for a driver’ license reinstatement to reclaim the right to operate a motor vehicle lawfully in the state. While the precise requirements of reinstatement will depend on your individual circumstances, you might need to do the following:
- Successfully complete a driving skills and knowledge test
- Submit a $100 reinstatement fee
- Successfully participate in the Alcohol and Drug Safety Program (ADSAP)
- Furnish an SR-22 as proof of insurance
How an Experienced Greenville DUI Defense Lawyer Can Help
Although facing the prospect of a criminal charge for DUI/DUAC might be daunting, there are many defenses that might be used to safeguard your reputation and future. At De Bruin Law Firm, our DUI defense attorneys tenaciously challenge the prosecutor’s case when seeking a dismissal, acquittal, or favorable plea agreement. While the specific defense strategy we utilize will vary depending on the precise nature of the case, potential defenses might include:
- Challenging the legal basis for the stop
- Exposing inconsistencies or misrepresentation of the facts by the police officer
- Revealing the unreliability of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs)
- Attacking the officer’s compliance with mandatory procedures
- Analyzing the collection, storage, and testing of blood or urine
- Uncovering a lack of maintenance or calibration of the breath test device
- Presenting evidence of a rising BAC level that was still under the legal limit at the time of the stop
While many people assume that a DUI charge inevitably will lead to a conviction, experienced Greenville DUI lawyers can employ a broad range of defenses to seek a dismissal, acquittal, or favorable plea agreement. When our DUI lawyers defend an individual charged with driving under the influence, we examine every aspect of the case from the initial contact with the officer, so we can identify facts and issues that might provide a strategic advantage. Even if the facts and circumstances of your situation make a plea bargain a better option, our lawyers work diligently to prepare the most effective and persuasive defense strategies. This approach allows us to negotiate any plea agreement from a position of strength.
Contact our Greenville DUI Defense Attorney
If you or someone you love has been arrested for DUI or any other alcohol or drug-related driving offense, we invite you to contact us 24/7 to protect your future. Our law firm is committed to providing effective legal representation and timely communication, so call us today at (864) 372-2896 or submit a confidential case inquiry form.