The attorneys at Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey, LLC provide you with dedicated and hard-hitting legal representation when you are facing felony charges from a DUI. Call us today to discuss your case and get the help that you need.
What Is a Felony DUI in South Carolina?
A DUI is charged as a criminal offense in South Carolina (as opposed to a traffic offense). Many of these cases involve misdemeanor charges. However, some serious cases of DUI are charged as felonies, meaning that there will be much more serious penalties. Even second and third DUI offenses are usually charged as misdemeanors, as well as cases where the driver has a very high blood alcohol content.
The prosecutor bears the burden of proof in a felony DUI case. They must prove each element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt. A felony DUI is different from a “regular” DUI, and there are different elements of the two criminal offenses.
According to South Carolina law, the prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime:
- The motorist operated the vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or both.
- The driver “does any act forbidden by law or neglects any duty imposed by law in the driving of the motor vehicle” (such as reckless driving or even making an illegal turn).
- The driver’s actions are the proximate cause of great bodily injury or death to another person.
One of the major differences between a felony and a misdemeanor is the requirement that the driver’s actions cause great bodily injury or death. The question is what is considered “great bodily injury” in South Carolina.
The law defines this term as:
“bodily injury which causes a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ.”
If someone else suffered minor injuries in the crash, the driver would still be charged with a misdemeanor. The prosecutor can increase the charges to a felony DUI as the accident victim’s condition becomes more apparent. Oftentimes, whether an injury is “great” is in dispute in a case.
Felony DUI Penalties
South Carolina law imposes significant penalties on drivers who are convicted of felony DUI. Here are the penalties that someone convicted of the crime may face:
- In the event of great bodily injury, the driver will face imprisonment from 30 days to 15 years and a fine between $5,100 and $10,100.
- In the event of death, there is imprisonment from one to 25 years and a fine between $10,100 and $25,000.
South Carolina adds many surcharges onto the fine that can effectively double the amount of money that you need to pay.
There is a wide disparity of potential sentences for felony DUI. The prosecutor will consider many circumstances in recommending a sentence, including:
- How far over the legal limit the driver was
- The severity of the injuries suffered
- Whether this was your first or subsequent offense
- The egregiousness of the breach of the motor vehicle law or duty
Thus, there are high stakes in a felony DUI case. In a worst-case scenario, there can be a lengthy jail sentence. Under South Carolina law, it is not possible to suspend a jail sentence entirely. In other words, a conviction will lead to jail time.
Defenses Against Felony DUI Charges
You will be faced with a choice of whether to try to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor or to fight the charges against you. Much depends on whether the prosecutor has the evidence to build a strong case against you. There are some possible defenses to a felony DUI charge that can help your case, including:
- The evidence being used against you (the chemical tests) was not reliable, or it did not have a valid chain of custody.
- Your legal rights were violated during the course of the investigation.
- The Breathalyzer machine gave an inaccurate result, or it was not properly calibrated.
- The person injured did not suffer “great bodily injury” (and thus, the prosecutor overcharged the case and cannot prove all the elements).
- The police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle or probable cause to arrest you.
An experienced DUI attorney can identify legal flaws in the prosecution’s case and either use them to fight the charges or as leverage to negotiate a better plea deal.
Contact a Greenville DUI Defense Attorney Today
The attorneys at Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey, LLC defend the legal rights of people charged with DUI in South Carolina. The prosecutor does not have unlimited power in your case. However, if you do not contact an attorney as soon as possible after being charged with a crime, your legal rights can be at risk.
To speak with one of our experienced attorneys, you can reach us by phone at (864) 920-2709 or send us a message online to discuss your case.
DUI Case FAQs
Should I plead guilty to the charges against me?
It depends on whether the prosecutor has the necessary evidence to persuade a jury of your guilt and the type of deal that they are offering.
What happens if the Breathalyzer is inaccurate?
The evidence from the machine can be thrown out entirely, depriving the prosecutor of a key part of the case against you.
Does the judge have to approve a plea bargain in a felony DUI case?
No. The judge will strongly consider the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation, but they will have the ability to impose their own sentence in your case.