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You’ve found yourself in a rough spot.

At the time, you thought you were okay to drive. Maybe you were?

But let’s face it, it doesn’t take much alcohol to put you over the legal limit.

Either way, you’re facing DUI charges in South Carolina and you need some answers.

So let’s start with the basics of DUI laws in South Carolina.

DUI basics

If you’re charged with driving under the influence, or DUI, that means the police say you were operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or another controlled substance. For our purposes, we’ll only be talking about alcohol in this article.

If someone is suspected of DUI, law enforcement will want to determine whether your blood alcohol content, or BAC, exceeds the legal limit. As you might have guessed, this is done via a breathalyzer test.

After being pulled over, police may ask the suspect to blow into the breathalyzer device either at the scene of the stop or at the police station after being arrested. The device measures how much alcohol is in the suspect’s system. It is important to know that the legal limit isn’t the same for everyone:

  • Drivers under 21 years old — 0.02% BAC or greater
  • Drivers 21 and older — 0.08% BAC or greater
  • Commercial motor vehicle drivers — 0.04% or greater

If you refuse to take the breath test when the police officer tries to administer it, your refusal can be used against you in Court to help prove that you were driving under the influence. South Carolina law says any person driving in the state agrees to have their blood alcohol level measured. This is called “Implied Consent.”

When you’re fighting a DUI charge, you must commonly do so on two fronts — the administrative suspension side and the criminal side.

The administrative side involves your driver’s license suspension and Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) proceedings. Why should you fight this? So you can drive again and minimize your suspension and avoid super expensive SR-22 insurance! Losing your license is tough, and it may be taken away for a long time. Your attorney can fight your suspension, and in some cases, you can get a limited license to use in the meantime.

The criminal side involves the criminal prosecution of your case. This is the process of the Solicitor bringing DUI charges against you and happens in court. Your attorney can also put up a fight on this front. Sometimes charges can be dismissed or reduced where a DUI conviction is completely avoided.

Both fronts can bring harsh penalties.

Penalties for DUI

South Carolina takes drunk driving seriously.

The penalties for DUI charges depend on a couple of factors. First, how many prior DUI offenses do you have? The look-back period for prior DUI charges is 10 years. That means, offenses that happened more than 10 years ago do not count toward current DUI penalties.

The second factor is your BAC at the time you were arrested for DUI.

Based upon these two factors, South Carolina law outlines the potential jail time, fines and driver’s license suspension period. These factors will also determine whether you must install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle. This device is essentially a breathalyzer affixed to your car that prevents the car from starting unless someone (presumably the driver) blows into a tube and yields an acceptable result.

These are the punishments for DUI convictions. The chart below outlines how number of prior offenses and BAC impact the severity of punishment for a DUI conviction:

Offense BAC Fine Jail Time Suspended License? IID?
1st BAC < .10% $400* 48 hours to 30 days 6 months No
BAC .10 – .16% $500* 72 hours to 30 days 6 months No
BAC > .16% $1,000* 30 to 90 days 6 months Yes, if BAC >.15
2nd BAC < .10% $2,500 to $5,500 30 days to 2 years 1 year Yes
BAC .10 – .16% $2,500 to $5,500 30 days to 2 years 1 year Yes
BAC > .16% $3,500 to $6,500 90 days to 3 years 1 year Yes
3rd BAC < .10% $3,800 to $6,300 60 days to 3 years 2 years (4 years if 3rd offense w/i 5 years of 1st offense) Yes
BAC .10 – .16% $5,000 to $7,500 90 days to 4 years 2 years (4 years if 3rd offense w/i 5 years of 1st offense) Yes
BAC > .16% $7,500 to $10,000 6 months to 5 years 2 years (4 years if 3rd offense w/i 5 years of 1st offense) Yes
4th BAC < .10% None 1 to 5 years Permanent revocation N/A
BAC .10 – .16% None 2 to 6 years Permanent revocation N/A
BAC > .16% None 3 to 7 years Permanent revocation N/A

*One important thing to note about DUI penalties is that first offenses are punishable by a fine or jail time but not both. Beyond that, judges have the discretion to order a fine, jail time or both.

Before you even think about going to trial to fight a DUI, you could have your license suspended immediately. If your breath test shows a reading of 0.15% or more or you outright refuse the breathalyzer, you driver’s license will be suspended immediately for the time periods outlined below:

Prior DUI Convictions* BAC OF 0.15% Or Greater Breathalyzer Refusal
0 1 month 6 months
1 2 months 9 months
2 3 months 12 months
3 4 months 15 months

*Prior DUI convictions had in the last 10 years — or the look-back period.

Losing your driving privileges is a huge hassle and limits your ability to go from place to place. As if the penalties described above aren’t enough, other negative consequences can result from a DUI.

Examples include:

  • Higher car insurance
  • Mandatory participation in a treatment program such as Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP)
  • Loss of current job
  • Limitations on future employment
  • Required community service

Clearly, you don’t even want to be accused of DUI. The penalties are tough, and the administrative and legal procedures you must navigate in addressing these penalties are tedious and confusing. This is why you need an experienced DUI attorney walking you through these processes and answering your questions along the way.

Common Questions About DUI’s in SC

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, you probably have many questions about what happened during your arrest, where your situation stands now, and what is going to happen in the future. The attorneys at Coastal Law want to help you with your specific case, but first, here are common questions our clients ask us about DUI charges.

1. Will I go to jail for a DUI?

You can go to jail on your first DUI offense; however, the judge has the option to only ask you to pay a fine. Subsequent offenses carry a minimum jail sentence along with other penalties.

2. Will I lose my license if I get a DUI?

In many cases, yes. If you refuse a breathalyzer test or blow 0.15% BAC or greater, you will lose your license on the spot. If you’re convicted, your license will be suspended for at least 6 months.

You may be able to get a provisional driver’s license if you refused a breathalyzer and request an administrative hearing. An attorney can help you with this process.

3. Do I need a lawyer for a DUI?

Yes. DUI charges carry very serious penalties. If you choose to fight the charges, you need a DUI defense attorney to fight for your freedom, your money and your driver’s license.

4. I can easily pay the fine for my DUI. So shouldn’t I pay it and move on?

You should not make a hasty decision when it comes to pleading guilty.

In many situations, those accused of DUI want their day in court. When you just pay the fine, you’re admitting guilt.

While the fine may go away quickly, the DUI — sometimes a felony — stays on your criminal record forever. It will follow you. Plus, DUI penalties increase when you get a subsequent conviction within 10 years of your first conviction.

Getting help with your DUI case

If you’ve been charged with a DUI in SC please find an attorney. Things aren’t always as they seem. A good attorney can uncover important details that can change the outcome of your case. Or, if you’re ready to speak with an attorney, dial (843) 488-5000 to discuss your DUI case.

Ready to Speak with an Attorney?

Contact Coastal Law to discuss your situation.

Get in Touch

Ready to Speak with an Attorney?

Contact Coastal Law to discuss your situation.

Get in Touch