If you have been accused of causing a serious accident while driving under the influence in North Charleston, you could be facing a felony DUI charge. This is an extremely serious matter. Felony DUIs carry mandatory penalties, and having a felony on your record can truly impact the rest of your life. In this article, North Charleston defense lawyer Rad S. Deaton explains what you need to know if you have been charged with felony DUI:

Causing an Accident While Drunk Can Lead to a Felony DUI Charge

South Carolina’s felony DUI law applies specifically to circumstances in which drivers cause serious accidents while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (or both). Section 56-5-2945(A) of the South Carolina Code of Laws states:

“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, and, upon conviction, must be punished . . . .”

Based on this statutory language, there are three main “elements” of a felony DUI charge. To secure a conviction, prosecutors must prove that:

  • You were driving under the influence,
  • You committed a negligent act that “proximately cause[d]” an accident, and
  • The accident resulted in “great bodily injury” or death.

If prosecutors cannot prove any one of these elements, then they should not be able to secure a conviction for felony DUI. But, you could still face prosecution for other crimes (i.e. a “normal” DUI or vehicular manslaughter) depending on the circumstances of your case.

If Your BAC was 0.08 Percent or Above, It Will Be Inferred that You Were Under the Influence

If you took the breathalyzer test (as required by South Carolina law) and registered a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or above, it will be “inferred” that you were driving under the influence of alcohol. This means that in order to convince the judge or jury that you were not under the influence, you will need to either (i) challenge the validity of your BAC reading, or (ii) overcome the inference based on other evidence.

The Penalties for a Felony DUI are Substantial

If you are convicted of felony DUI, you will face mandatory penalties. South Carolina law requires fines, incarceration, and loss of driving privileges in all felony DUI cases. In cases involving “great bodily injury,” potential penalties include:

  • $5,100 to $10,000 in fines
  • $11,019.50 in assessments and surcharges
  • 30 days to 15 years of imprisonment
  • Driver’s license suspension

In cases involving death, potential penalties include:

  • $10,000 to $25,100 in fines
  • $27,144.50 in assessments and surcharges
  • One year to 25 years of imprisonment
  • Driver’s license suspension

Regardless of whether your case involves an accident resulting in “great bodily injury” or death, you will be required to serve at least a portion of your term of imprisonment without suspension, and you will not be eligible for probation in lieu of imprisonment.

To restore your driving privileges, once you are released from prison you will need to enroll in South Carolina’s Ignition Interlock Device Program. You will also need to obtain an ignition interlock restricted license and install an ignition interlock device in each vehicle you drive. You will need to keep these devices installed for three years if you were convicted of causing an accident resulting in “great bodily injury,” for or five years if you were convicted of causing an accident resulting in death.

There are Several Potential Defenses to a Felony DUI Charge

Just as there are several potential defenses to “normal” DUI charges in South Carolina, there are also several potential defenses to a felony DUI charge. Depending on the circumstances of your case, some examples of defenses your lawyer may be able to assert include:

  • Insufficient Evidence that You Were “Under the Influence” – From challenging the reliability of your BAC reading to disputing the arresting officer’s interpretation of your appearance or behavior, there are several ways to challenge the prosecution’s proof that you were “under the influence” at the time of the accident. Remember, you don’t need to prove that you were sober—you just need to prevent the prosecution from proving that you were drunk.
  • Insufficient Evidence of Causation – Just because you were drunk, this does not necessarily mean that you caused the accident. Did the other driver hit you? Did your vehicle have a mechanical issue? If prosecutors cannot prove that you “proximately cause[d]” the accident, then you don’t deserve to be found guilty.
  • Insufficient Evidence of “Great Bodily Injury” – Can prosecutors prove that a driver, passenger, or pedestrian suffered “great bodily injury” in the crash? This requires evidence that the injury, “create[d] a substantial risk of death or . . . cause[d] serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”
  • Violations of Your Constitutional Rights – If the police arrested you without probable cause or failed to read your rights, or if prosecutors have withheld exculpatory evidence or engaged in any other form of misconduct, this violation of your constitutional rights could provide a defense in your felony DUI case.

Discuss Your Felony DUI Case with North Charleston Defense Lawyer Rad S. Deaton

Whether it is in your best interests to pursue a plea bargain or fight your felony DUI charge at trial, you will need to rely on an experienced defense lawyer to help you execute a strategic defense. North Charleston defense lawyer Rad S. Deaton has been helping clients fight DUI charges for more than 15 years. To schedule a free and confidential consultation as soon as possible, call 843-225-5723 or tell us how we can reach you online now.