In South Carolina, facing a DUI charge carries significant risks regardless of the circumstances involved. But, if you cause an accident while driving under the influence, the consequences can become far more severe.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a Misdemeanor in Most Cases
Under South Carolina law, a DUI is typically a misdemeanor offense. For a first-time offense with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% to 0.10%, a misdemeanor DUI carries up to 30 days in jail (or 30 days of community service) plus fines, assessments, surcharges, and other penalties.
Causing an Accident While Driving Under the Influence Can Lead to a Felony DUI
But, if you cause an accident while driving under the influence, you can be charged with a felony DUI. Specifically, Section 56-5-2945(A) of the South Carolina Code of Laws provides:
“A person who, while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the combination of alcohol and drugs, drives a motor vehicle and when driving a motor vehicle does any act forbidden by law or neglects any duty imposed by law in the driving of the motor vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes great bodily injury or death to another person, is guilty of the offense of felony driving under the influence . . . .”
Section 56-5-2945(B) defines “great bodily injury” as any form of physical harm that “creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” Broken bones, nerve damage, soft tissue damage, severe burns, spinal cord injuries, and brain trauma are all examples of injuries that can trigger a felony DUI charge under South Carolina law.
Felony DUI Charges Carry Mandatory Penalties in South Carolina
If you are charged with a felony DUI for causing an accident while driving drunk, you are subject to mandatory penalties. These penalties vary depending on whether the accident resulted in great bodily injury or death:
- DUI Accident Resulting in Great Bodily Injury – Mandatory fines of $5,1000 to $10,000 and a mandatory prison sentence of 30 days to 15 years.
- DUI Accident Resulting in Death – Mandatory fines of $10,100 to $25,100 and a mandatory prison sentence of 1 to 15 years.
Section 56-5-2945(A) of the South Carolina Code of Laws also specifically provides that “[a] part of the mandatory sentence . . . must not be suspended,” and that individuals who are convicted of felony DUI are not eligible for probation. A felony DUI conviction will also result in a mandatory driver’s license suspension and mandatory enrollment in the state’s Ignition Interlock Device Program upon driver’s license reinstatement.
There Are Several Fact-Specific Defenses to Felony DUI Charges in South Carolina
While causing an accident while driving under the influence carries steep penalties, there are also several potential defenses to felony DUI charges under South Carolina law. But, it is important to keep in mind that the availability of these defenses is heavily dependent on the specific facts involved. Defenses that are available to some defendants won’t be available to others, and the defenses you can use to fight your felony DUI charge depend entirely on your individual circumstances.
With this in mind, some examples of potential defense strategies in South Carolina felony DUI cases include:
1. You Were Not Driving Under the Influence
If you were not driving under the influence, you are not guilty of a felony DUI. There are several ways to challenge the prosecution’s case for driving under the influence. For example, depending on the facts of your case, your defense lawyer may be able to argue that:
- Your breathalyzer test result (BAC reading) is unreliable or invalid
- Your field sobriety test (FST) results are unreliable or invalid
- There is an alternate explanation for your driving behavior (i.e., you were fatigued or suffering from a health condition)
- There is an alternate explanation for your high BAC reading or FST “failure” (i.e., you had recently eaten certain types of food or were wearing unsteady shoes)
- Prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to prove that you were intoxicated beyond a reasonable doubt
2. You Did Not Commit Another Violation
Under Section 56-5-2945(A), in order to be guilty of felony DUI, a person must “do any act forbidden by law or neglect any duty imposed by law in the driving of the motor vehicle.” This is in addition to driving under the influence. In other words, if your only mistake was driving drunk (or if prosecutors can only prove that you were driving drunk), this is not enough to establish culpability for a felony DUI.
3. You Did Not “Proximately Cause” the Victim’s Injury or Death
South Carolina’s felony DUI statute also requires evidence that you “proximately cause[d]” the victim’s great bodily injury or death. If prosecutors are unable to prove that you caused the accident, this can also be enough to save you from a felony DUI conviction. For example, if the evidence shows that the victim ran a stop sign or drifted into your lane, you do not deserve to be held accountable for the victim’s injury or death (although you could still be prosecuted for a misdemeanor DUI).
4. The Police Violated Your Rights
Regardless of the facts of your case, an experienced defense lawyer may be able to help you avoid a felony DUI conviction if the police violated your rights. For example, if the police failed to read your Miranda rights before interrogating you in custody, then your statements to the police may be inadmissible in court. If your statements are the prosecution’s primary evidence, keeping your statements out of court could prevent the prosecution from securing a conviction.
5. Prosecutors Violated Your Rights
The same is true if prosecutors violate your rights during your felony DUI case. From withholding material exculpatory evidence to conducting discriminatory jury selection, various prosecutorial miscues can give defendants strong defenses at trial.
Discuss Your Case with North Charleston DUI Defense Lawyer Rad S. Deaton
If you are facing a DUI charge after causing an accident, it is important that you seek experienced legal representation. To discuss your case with North Charleston DUI defense lawyer Rad S. Deaton, call 843-225-5723 or request a free consultation online now.