Every day, people get drunk, get into their cars, and drive. Some of them are pulled over, arrested, and charged with DUI in SC.

For years, the SC Highway Patrol, along with advocacy groups like MADD, have waged a campaign of disinformation with television ads and billboards across South Carolina. These ads and their rhetoric appear to be more about scaring people into not drinking at all rather than promoting public awareness of SC’s DUI laws.

What are some common misconceptions about SC’s DUI laws that are encouraged by SCHP’s ad campaign? What do you need to know after a SC DUI arrest before you make what may be life-altering decisions about your case?

The decisions you make now could have long-term effects on your future.

Before you rush into anything, take a few minutes to educate yourself about the myths and facts of DUI charges in South Carolina.

5 Mistaken Beliefs About DUI Charges

1. Zero Tolerance is the law in South Carolina.

Wrong! For years, SCHP has been buying television ads and billboards announcing that “zero tolerance is the law” in SC. You have probably seen other ads that say “buzzed driving is drunk driving.

Both of these statements are false. Although SC does have a “zero tolerance” DUI law, it only applies to minors. SCHP and MADD might wish that it applied to every person, but it is not the law as applied to adults charged with DUI in SC.

Similarly, “buzzed driving” is not drunk driving unless you define “buzzed” as intoxicated to the extent that it materially and substantially affects your ability to drive, which is the legal standard for DUI in SC.

Some officers will take you to jail if they smell alcohol at all during a traffic stop. If you take the breathalyzer and “pass,” they will then accuse you of being high on drugs and you will still go to jail. The truth is that a half of a beer smells the same as 12 beers on a person’s breath. Many officers may believe that any amount of alcohol is too much to drink before driving, but that is not what the law says.

It is not against the law to drink and drive in South Carolina. It is against the law to

1) drive when you are intoxicated to the extent that it materially and substantially impairs your ability to drive (DUI); or

2) to drive when you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of greater than .08 (DUAC).

2. It’s easiest to plead guilty to DUI, so that’s the best option.

False! Pleading guilty may seem like the easy way out, but it is not. If you plead guilty, you’ll have to face the consequences of a DUI conviction – many of which are not obvious until the conviction is on your record.

The penalties for a DUI conviction in SC can be severe, and they can continue for many years after your guilty plea. Even a first-time DUI offense in SC can carry a mandatory minimum jail sentence depending on the breathalyzer results. Each subsequent conviction

carries higher penalties, and a fourth offense with a breathalyzer result greater than .16 can result in up to 7 years in prison!

In addition to the potential jail sentence, a SC DUI conviction results in:

  • A license suspension.
  • License revocation if you have two or more qualifying offenses on your driving record.
  • Fines.
  • Requirement to complete the Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP).
  • Requirement to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle.
  • Requirement to carry SR-22 insurance for at least three years. Longer if you miss a payment.
  • A permanent criminal record for DUI.

A SC DUI is a traffic offense, but it is also a criminal conviction. Along with CDV offenses, it is the most serious misdemeanor offense in SC’s magistrate and municipal courts.

3. You can always have your criminal record expunged later.

Wrong! A DUI in SC can never be expunged because it is both a criminal offense and a traffic violation.

SC allows for expungement of some minor offenses, but DUI is not one of them. Traffic offenses in SC can never be expunged except: 1) minor traffic offenses that are dismissed and expunged upon completing SC’s Traffic Education Program (TEP); or 2) reckless driving charges that are dismissed and expunged upon completing SC’s Pre-Trial Intervention program (PTI).

DUI convictions do not fall into either of these exceptions, and they will stay on your criminal record for the rest of your life.

4. Always submit to a breathalyzer test because refusing it makes you look guilty.

Wrong again. I promise you that most police officers do not think that refusing a breathalyzer makes you guilty. They know that refusing the breathalyzer and asking for an attorney is the smartest thing that you can do. Especially if you are not guilty…

Refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test is not an admission of guilt. However, there are consequences for refusing the breathalyzer. SC’s implied consent laws say that, by driving on SC’s highways, you “impliedly consent” to breath, urine, or blood alcohol tests.

When you refuse the breath test, your license will be automatically suspended. It will also be automatically suspended if you take the test and the result is greater than .15. You must then request an administrative hearing within 30 days to challenge the suspension. When you request the administrative hearing, you can get a temporary license that allows you to drive until the hearing date.

If you do not request the administrative hearing within 30 days or if you lose the hearing, then your license will be suspended, you will have to enroll in ADSAP, and you may have to install an ignition interlock device.

If you win the hearing, if the officer does not appear at the hearing, or if the officer chooses not to enter testimony at the hearing, your license is restored to you. This is a separate proceeding from the DUI – even if you win the administrative hearing process, you are still facing the criminal charge of DUI and all of the associated penalties.

  1. DUI lawyers are too expensive and it is not worth the price.

SC DUI lawyers are expensive. They are expensive because DUI is a “niche” area of law that requires ongoing training to keep up with the ever-changing DUI laws and appellate opinions, and because DUI cases require a lot of time and effort to investigate, research, and prepare your case for trial.

Because of the “hidden costs,” a DUI conviction is often more expensive than it would have been to retain a DUI lawyer. Consider the financial costs:

  • Fines that may be in the thousands of dollars depending on the level of offense and breathalyzer results.
  • Reinstatement fees at the DMV.
  • SR-22 insurance for three years – longer if you miss a payment.
  • The cost of ADSAP classes.
  • The cost of an ignition interlock device and the associated supervision costs to the probation office.

But, it’s more than just the immediate financial costs, isn’t it? Consider the additional costs that are not immediately obvious:

  • A permanent criminal record that labels you as a person with an alcohol problem.
  • The potential impact on your family.
  • The possibility of losing your job.
  • MIssed opportunities for future jobs.
  • The social stigma associated with a DUI conviction.
  • The possibility that you could be charged with DUI again in the future – a second offense DUI will land you in General Sessions Court facing much higher fines and prison sentences.
  • The stress of facing a DUI charge in court alone with a trained prosecutor who does not care about you, your license, or your family – their job is to convict you of DUI.

Find an Experienced DUI Lawyer in South Carolina

Coastal Law, LLC’s Columbia, Charleston, Conway, and Myrtle Beach DUI attorneys will investigate your case, research the laws that apply to your situation, and look for every possible way that we can get your DUI case dismissed or win at trial.

We care about your future, your family, your license, and your ability to make a living. Call us now at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to schedule a free, confidential initial consultation about your case.

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