Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC) are serious offenses in South Carolina. Depending on a number of factors, the offense may be a misdemeanor or a felony. The level of offense, in turn, will determine the potential consequences you face if convicted.
Here, we discuss the how a DUI or DUAC offense becomes a felony and the possible penalties for the charge. Of course, if you have been charged with a drunk driving offense in Rock Hill or a nearby community in South Carolina, you should seek help right away from an experienced DUI defense lawyer. At McKinney, Tucker & Lemel, LLC, we are here to help. Call or reach us online today to discuss the specific facts of your case.
Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony DUI
In South Carolina, the police can charge you with a DUI based on probable cause that you were driving while “materially and appreciably impaired” by alcohol or drugs or a combination of both. They can charge you with a DUAC if a chemical test shows that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 or higher. The penalties for both types of offenses are the same. We’ll refer to them collectively as “DUI.”
Generally, a DUI is a misdemeanor. However, the offense becomes a felony if:
- Injury or death – If your impaired driving causes great bodily injury or death, you can be charged with a felony. “Great bodily injury” is any injury that carries a significant risk of a fatality or which leaves a victim with disfigurement, an extended period of disability, loss of bodily functions or an amputation.
- Multiple DUIs – In South Carolina, a third offense for driving under the influence will automatically be charged as a felony.
- Children in the vehicle – Finally, if a driver is arrested for DUI while transporting a minor in the vehicle, it may lead to a felony charge. For instance, driving under the influence with a child under age 16 in your car is often charged as felony child endangerment.
What Are the Penalties for a Felony DUI?
A felony DUI can carry extremely serious penalties. For example, a person can face upwards of $10,000 in fines, not including court costs and victim impact fees, and it could lead to as many as 25 years in prison if someone is seriously hurt or killed due to the DUI.
If you are arrested for felony DUI, you will lose your license. How long depends on how many DUIs you have on your record and how intoxicated you were.
Type of DUI Suspension
First offense (without injuries) Six months
First offense (if BAC is .15 or higher) Indefinite
Second offense (without injuries) Two years with an ignition interlock device
Third offense (without injuries) Three years with an IID
Third offense within five years Four years with an IID
Felony DUI involving injuries Three years (after release from prison)
Felony DUI causing death Five years (after release from prison)
As you can probably tell, if you commit felony DUI, you are going to lose your license while incarcerated. If you seriously injure or kill someone, that suspension will last for years after you are released from incarceration. So, a single felony DUI conviction can upend your life for several years, put you in terrible financial straits and leave you unable to return to your old way of life. This is why it is so important to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer from the very start of your case.
Can You Expunge a DUI in South Carolina?
Expungement is an equitable remedy that South Carolina courts can use to help people remove negative public records. Expungement is basically nothing more than a court order that directs public agencies like the court clerk and law enforcement agencies to remove and destroy records of your arrest. This includes removing them from electronic databases.
The problem is, you only get to expunge records of arrests that do not result in convictions. This is an enormous misconception many people have. They tend to think they can get their “conviction” record removed. In truth, there are only two ways you can qualify to expunge a DUI:
- The prosecutor drops the charges
- You are found “not guilty” at trial.
What To Do If You Have Been Arrested for a DUI in South Carolina?
If you have been arrested and charged with DUI in South Carolina, it is absolutely imperative that you fight your charges. Even if you think you have no chance of disputing the charges, you may be surprised to learn all the nuances in the law that may allow you to avoid the serious and long-term effects of a conviction. At McKinney, Tucker & Lemel, LLC, our attorneys are aggressive about seeking evidence to help our clients. Here are a few steps to follow if you are arrested:
- Do not answer any questions until you meet with a lawyer. Police are good at keeping you talking. It may start with small talk or unrelated things. They can then quickly begin asking questions about where you were earlier that night or who you were with earlier. These questions may seem harmless, especially if your judgment is impaired by alcohol. The police are just looking for other evidence they can use to show you are intoxicated. Your best bet is to stay silent and just ask to call an attorney.
- Do not be combative. Resisting arrest, becoming aggressive or being difficult is not going to help your case and may even lead to other charges.
- Do not speak to others at the jail. Police sometimes use interesting tactics to get confessions from suspects – even in DUI cases. If you are taken to a holding cell, just remain silent and contact an attorney at your earliest possible opportunity.
Our Rock Hill DUI Defense Attorneys Are Here for You
If you are facing serious charges relating to a DUI in South Carolina, call McKinney, Tucker & Lemel, LLC. Since 1977, our firm has aggressively protected the rights of clients in a variety of criminal and traffic cases. Don’t try to go it alone. Contact our firm today.
Gary C. Lemel is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Wake Forest University School of Law who has deep background as a criminal defense attorney in Rock Hill. Over the course of his career, he has handled everything from traffic violations to death penalty litigation. His current practice spans multiple counties and focuses on cases involving driving under the influence, drug charges and high-level felonies. He also serves on the board of the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and as a member of the South Carolina Bar’s Judicial Qualifications Committee and Public Defender Standards Committee.