DUI in South Carolina

What is a DUI in South Carolina?

A DUI in South Carolina is the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and other inebriating substances. Like other states in the U.S., South Carolina has a clearly defined legal blood or breath alcohol limit. Motorists who operate vehicles with an alcohol concentration above the state's legal threshold violate the state's Motor Vehicle Code and may be charged with driving under the influence.

The South Carolina courts and law enforcement agencies enforce state traffic laws and penalize defaulters. There are criminal and administrative penalties for DUIs in South Carolina, including fines, jail terms, and a loss of driving privileges. When an offender is convicted of a DUI, the offense is typically included in their South Carolina criminal record depending on its nature and severity.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in South Carolina?

The term 'DUI' is an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, while DWI stands for "Driving While Impaired". Both terms refer to traffic offenses such as drunk driving that involve the operation or control of a vehicle while the operator's ability is impaired by alcohol, drugs, and other controlled substances. South Carolina adopts the terms DUI and DUAC to denote different levels of impairment and alcohol concentration. DUAC, on the other hand, is short for Driving with Unlawful Alcohol Concentration.

DUAC does not denote impairment; if a person's blood alcohol concentration is higher than the state limit, the person may be charged with DUAC even if their ability to operate a vehicle is not impaired. South Carolina laws consider DUAC as serious as DUI and penalize the offense accordingly. Law enforcement officers may perform breathalyzer tests or chemical tests to determine a motorist's alcohol concentration.

South Carolina DUI Laws

SC Code § 56-5-2930 outlines South Carolina's DUI laws as follows:

  • It is against South Carolina laws for a person to drive or operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol to the extent that the person's ability to drive is "materially and appreciably" impaired.
  • It is unlawful for a person whose ability to drive is impaired by drugs to operate a vehicle. This also applies to any combination of alcohol, drugs, and other substances that cause impairment.
  • Driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more is an offense in South Carolina.
  • It is unlawful for commercial drivers to operate vehicles with a blood alcohol concentration of 0/04% or more.

Law enforcement officers may require motorists to take tests to determine blood alcohol concentration, including breath, blood, and urine tests. Breath tests may be conducted at the arrest scene using breathalyzers, while blood and urine samples may be collected after the arrest. The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) collaborates with state courts to manage and penalize traffic offenses. SCDMV assesses administrative penalties to defaulting motorists, including revocation of the offender's driving license, or if the offender's license was issued in another jurisdiction, revocation of their driving privileges within the state. Apart from driving under the influence, SCDMV also penalizes other traffic offenses such as:

  • Refusing to take alcohol or drug tests
  • Driving without insurance
  • Reckless driving
  • Operating a vehicle in an unsafe condition

DUI Penalties in South Carolina

The penalty assessed for a DUI in South Carolina depends on several factors, including the offender's criminal history, the offender's blood alcohol concentration, the nature or severity of the offense, and the presence of aggravating factors. First-time DUI offenses are misdemeanors under state laws; however, if the DUI involves death or bodily injury to another person, it is a felony. Additionally, fourth or subsequent DUIs are felony offenses.

DUI penalties in South Carolina include:

  • Fines of between $400 and $1,000
  • In place of fines, imprisonment for two (2) to 30 days
  • Suspension of the driver's license
  • Ignition interlock device installation

South Carolina also penalizes persons who fail to submit to testing with fines and license suspensions.

What Happens When You Get a DWI in South Carolina?

South Carolina does not use the term DWI to represent drunk driving offenses. Instead, the state uses DUAC, which is an acronym for Driving with an Unlawful Alcohol Concentration. When a motorist's blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.08%, the person may be charged with DUAC, even if the person's ability to drive is not impaired. DUAC penalties are the same as DUI penalties in South Carolina, and they include fines, probation, and jail terms.

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in South Carolina?

According to S.C. Code § 56-5-2930, a first DUI offense in South Carolina is penalized with imprisonment for no less than 48 hours and no more than 30 days. The court may order an equal amount of community service in place of jail time. The offender must serve the jail term or community service at a time that does not interfere with the person's regular employment. Offenders can also expect fines of up to $400. If the offender's BAC is at least 0.10% but no more than 0.16%, the minimum fine is $500, and the jail term is a minimum of 72 hours. Although the court may allow the offender to perform community service in lieu of jail time, the court does not compel offenders to perform community service.

If the offender's BAC is 0.16% or more, the associated fine is $1,000, and imprisonment is between 30 days to 90 days. The SCDMV suspends the licenses of first-time DUI offenders for six (6) months. Drivers who enroll in and complete ASDAP may be eligible for temporary licenses, which allow offenders limited driving privileges. An increased BAC leads to additional penalties. For example, a BAC of 0.15% or more leads to an additional month of license suspension.

What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in South Carolina?

A second DUI in South Carolina is punishable by a fine of at least $2,000 and no more than $5,100. It is also punishable by imprisonment for at least five (5) days and at most one (1) year. The court may not suspend less than $1,000 of the fine for a second DUI offense. If the offender's BAC is up to 0.10% but less than 0.16%, the penalty is a fine of at least $2,500 and at most $5,500. The court may not suspend less than $1,100 of this fine. Imprisonment is for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of two (2) years.

Offenders with a BAC of 0.16% or more are penalized with imprisonment for at least 90 days and at most three (3) years. The applicable fine is a minimum of $3,500 and a maximum of $6,500. SCDMV penalizes this category of offenders with a 60-day license suspension. Interested persons may challenge the suspension by requesting a hearing with the department within 30 days of the suspension. SCDMV also requires second-time DUI offenders to enroll in ignition interlock programs. Offenders must install ignition interlock devices for two (2) years on all owned vehicles.

What Happens After a Third DUI in South Carolina?

A third DUI in South Carolina is punishable by a fine of at least $3,800 and at most $6,300. Imprisonment is not less than 60 days and no more than three (3) years. If the offender's BAC is at least 0.10% but less than 0.16%, the minimum fine is $5,000, and the maximum fine is $7,500. Imprisonment for this category of DUI offenders is a minimum of 90 days and a maximum of four (4) years.

Offenders with a BAC level greater than 0.16% may be penalized with minimum fines of $7,500 and a maximum of $10,000. The court may also punish such offenders with imprisonment for at least six (6) months and at most five (5) months. License suspension is for three (3) months. Offenders with a BAC level greater than 0.16% are also required to install ignition interlock devices for three (3) to four (4) years.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, a DUI stays on the offender's record for life unless the subject of the record petitions the court for sealing or expungement. A DUI also stays on the offender's driving record for up to 10 years. Although a DUI leaves the offender's driving record, it stays on the offender's criminal history for life. Currently, South Carolina laws do not provide for the expungement of DUI records. Interested parties may be able to petition the court to seal a DUI record.

DUI Expungement in South Carolina

Expungement is a court order that completely destroys criminal records. When a judge signs an expungement order, all files and records relating to an offense or conviction, including arrests, mug shots, booking records, and fingerprints, are destroyed by every agency with copies of the record. When a record is expunged, it is no longer available to the public. Additionally, the subject of the record may legally deny the record under oath.

It is possible to delete DUI arrest records in South Carolina provided that the court dismissed the charges or did not find the defendant guilty. Interested parties may petition the court through the Solicitor's Office to expunge such records. Petitioners may be required to pay an application fee and other fees to the Clerk of Court.

If the court convicts a motorist of a DUI or DUAC, it is impossible to expunge the record as South Carolina statutes do not provide such records' expungement. However, DUI and DUAC records will no longer appear on an offender's driving record after ten (10) years.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in South Carolina?

Jail time is not likely after a first DUI in South Carolina. The state penalizes first DUI offenses with jail terms of between 48 hours to 30 days. The minimum jail term may be more than 48 hours, depending on the offender's blood alcohol concentration. If the offender's BAC is at least 0.10% but not up to 0.16%, the offender may face imprisonment for at least seven (7) days.

A blood alcohol concentration level greater than 0.16% may result in imprisonment for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 90 days. However, judges in South Carolina typically allow offenders to perform equal amounts of community service instead of jail terms. This means that first-time DUI offenders may serve 48 hours of community service instead of 48 hours in jail.

What is the Average Cost of DUI in South Carolina?

DUI costs can rise to $10,000 and even more. There are many costs associated with DUIs, including bail, court fees, fines, and others. In South Carolina, DUI offenders may be required to pay towing or impounded vehicle costs, which could be up to $150. Apart from fines, DUI offenders may also be required to pay court fees to cover the administrative costs of copying, sentencing, subpoenas, and others. Court fees for a DUI can come up to $1,000.

It costs an average of $3,500 to retain a DUI attorney in South Carolina. Depending on the nature or severity of the offense, costs can rise to $7,000 or more. Motorists who violate South Carolina's implied consent laws may be liable to pay more fees. Filing for an implied consent hearing costs $200. While waiting for a hearing, motorists may apply for a temporary alcohol license, which costs $100. Such persons must also pay reinstatement fees at the end of their sentences.

Persons convicted of DUIs in South Carolina must complete an Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ASAP). The enrollment cost for this program is $500. DUI charges also cause an increase in insurance premiums. Apart from this, DUI offenders must carry SR-22 driving insurance for up to three (3) years, the cost of which is about $100. Offenders in South Carolina may be required to install ignition interlock devices. The installation and maintenance are solely at the offender's expense.

How Much is Bail for a DUI in South Carolina?

When law enforcement officers arrest a motorist on suspicion or confirmation of a DUI, the person may be held in jail for eight (8) to 24 hours, depending on the severity of the offense. In some cases, the offender may be held for longer. Offenders held in detention for a DUI may get released without the need for bail. Others may be released on their recognizance. However, some other offenders may need to post bail to be released. Bail ensures that the offender will be present at any court hearings or scheduled court dates as required.

The court determines bail amounts in South Carolina at bond hearings. In determining whether bail is required for a DUI offender's release, the court considers the nature of the offense, the level of threat the offender poses to society, and whether the offender is a flight risk. Typically, the bail amount for a DUI depends on the severity of the offense. A minimum of $1,000 can be expected for first-time DUI offenses. More serious DUI offenses attract higher bail amounts.

How to Get My License Back After a DUI in South Carolina?

South Carolina's Motor Vehicle Laws allow law enforcement agencies to suspend or revoke a motorist's driver's license if the court determines that the motorist is in violation of traffic laws. The DMV in South Carolina can suspend or revoke a driver's license if the driver is guilty of the following offenses:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol
  • Driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration
  • Driving under the influence of a controlled substance
  • Violating implied consent laws

Persons whose licenses are suspended after a DUI may apply to the DMV for reinstatement upon completing the sentence requirements. Such persons must pay a $100 reinstatement fee. Persons with reinstatement fees of up to $300 may be eligible for payment plans. Persons whose licenses have been revoked may also petition the court for reinstatement upon fulfilling all sentence requirements, including treatment programs, fines, and probation. According to S.C. Code § 56-1-385, such persons may file a petition with the circuit court in the county where the person resides.

The petitioner must present a copy of the petition to the state prosecutor, who must respond within 30 days. The prosecutor may demand a hearing to determine the merits of the petition. Still, if the prosecutor does not demand a hearing, the court may consider other factors in determining whether to reinstate the license, including affidavits, sentence requirements, and the petitioner's driving record. The reinstatement fee for a revoked license is $200. Reinstatement may not be available to persons convicted of felony DUI offenses.

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in South Carolina?

Although criminal penalties for DUI are harsh, there are also administrative penalties and long-term consequences to consider. For example, a DUI conviction shows up in background checks, limiting an offender's employment opportunities or increasing difficulty in getting a job. A DUI conviction may lead to employment termination and workplace sanctions. Fines, fees, and other associated costs can also make a DUI an expensive venture. Offenders may run into financial problems while trying to resolve DUI offenses. Other consequences of DUIs include:

  • Increased insurance premiums
  • A permanent criminal record
  • A loss of professional license
  • Assigned risk insurance for up to three (3) years
  • Imprisonment
  • A loss of driving privileges or driver's license

Can You Get Fired for a DUI in South Carolina?

Yes, it is possible to get fired for a DUI in South Carolina. Factors that determine whether a person gets fired for a DUI include the nature of the person's employment, the employer's policy or view on DUIs, and the sentence the offender receives. As an at-will employment state, employers in South Carolina may terminate employment for any reason at any time; however, the reasons must not be discriminatory.

Employees in certain fields may be more at risk of termination for a DUI. Those fields include healthcare, politics, real estate, child care, education, sales, and commercial driving. These fields often require background checks before employment, and a DUI could result in lost work opportunities. Other fields may be at less risk of getting fired for a DUI. It is important to remember that a DUI charge sometimes results in jail terms. Long absence from work due to a jail sentence may cause an employee to lose their job.

How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in South Carolina?

South Carolina legally permits DUI checkpoints. However, for evidence obtained at checkpoints to be admissible in court, law enforcement officers must follow certain guidelines in the operation of DUI checkpoints. There must be predetermined criteria for stopping vehicles at DUI checkpoints; there must be a predictable pattern or neutral formula. Law enforcement officers must keep stops at DUI checkpoints brief, except there is reason to believe that a motorist is driving under the influence of alcohol.

Also, there must be adequate lighting, signals, and warning signs at the checkpoint. To find DUI checkpoints in South Carolina, interested parties may consult local law enforcement agencies, media outlets, and third-party websites.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWI?

South Carolina does not differentiate between DUI and DWI as they are both terms that refer to impaired driving. However, some other states differentiate between the two, and in those states, a DWI is worse than a DUI. This is because a DWI involves a higher level of intoxication. DUI is the legally adopted term in South Carolina, and the state penalizes the offense according to its Motor Vehicle and Highway Traffic Regulation Laws.

As provided by South Carolina's Implied Consent Law (S.C. Code 56-5-2950), motorists who obtain

driver's licenses or drive in South Carolina implicitly consent to alcohol testing. Law enforcement officers may collect breath, blood, and urine samples to determine alcohol levels in a motorist's system. Persons whose alcohol concentration exceeds the legal limit may face DUI charges. A refusal to take tests may result in additional penalties such as a suspension of the offender's license or revocation of driving privileges.