South Carolina DUI Laws, Fines & Penalties

Drunk driving
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South Carolina defines driving under the influence (DUI) as driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above, according to South Carolina Department of Public Safety's SC Laws Relative to Impaired Driving. Penalties for a DUI include incarceration; a fine; assessments and surcharges that add to the total cost; substance abuse education and recommendations for treatment; driver’s license suspension or revocation; and installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). The substance abuse education and recommendations for treatment is provided through the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Service’s Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP).

BAC Under 0.08 Percent

A first DUI arrest is a misdemeanor. When an individual has a BAC between 0.05 percent and 0.079 percent, the court will consider that with other evidence to determine if the individual was driving under the influence. An individual under 21 cannot drive with a BAC of 0.02 or above. This is a violation of the state’s zero tolerance law, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety's Alcohol and Impaired Driving.

Read More​: What Is Suspicion of DUI?

First South Carolina DUI

Penalties for a first offense DUI include 48 hours to 30 days of incarceration, a fine of $400, completion of the ADSAP program and six-months' driver’s license suspension. In lieu of the 48 hours of incarceration, the court may allow the individual to complete a minimum of 48 hours of community service. In South Carolina, community service is called “public service employment.” The community service must be served when the individual is not working; the service cannot interfere with their regular employment.

If the individual’s BAC was 0.16 percent or above, the penalties rise to 30 days to 90 days of incarceration and a fine of $1,000.The minimum period of community service rises to 30 days. If the individual’s BAC was 0.16 percent or above, they face a penalty of six-months' installation of an ignition interlock device.

If the individual’s BAC was between 0.10 and 0.159 percent, the penalties increase to 72 hours to 30 days incarceration and a fine of $500, and the minimum period of community service rises to 72 hours. If the individual’s BAC was 0.16 percent or above, the penalties rise to 30 days to 90 days of incarceration and a fine of $1,000.The minimum period of community service rises to 30 days. If the individual’s BAC was 0.16 percent or above, they face a penalty of six-months' installation of an ignition interlock device.

Pretrial Intervention Program

A first-time offender may be eligible to participate in pretrial intervention (PTI). The program involves attending counseling related to the charge and random drug testing, completion of community service hours and documentation of the individual’s employment or advancement in school, according to the First Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office. When a defendant completes PTI successfully, they can submit an expungement order to the court to destroy all records related to the charge.

What Is Magistrate Court?

A first DUI may be charged in magistrate court, according to South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56:5. Magistrate court is a special type of court that hears offenses where the penalty does not exceed 30 days of jail time, and the fine generally does not exceed $500. Criminal cases that involve greater penalties are heard in circuit court.

Provisional Driver’s License

An individual whose driving privileges have been suspended for a first DUI may be eligible for a six-month provisional driver’s license, according to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles License Reinstatement. In order to be eligible, the driver must have had a BAC of 0.14 percent or less and no other driver’s license suspensions after the DUI suspension. The exception is the individual can have driver’s license suspensions for refusal to take a chemical test (implied consent violation; to take a chemical test if the driver is under 21 (implied consent under 21); underage DUI (BAC between 0.02 percent and 0.079 percent); or a BAC of 0.15 percent or greater. The individual must enroll in the ADSAP program and pay a $100 fee for the provisional license.

Temporary Alcohol License

An individual may be eligible for a temporary alcohol license (TAL) if they filed for an administrative hearing regarding a driver’s license suspension. The individual must also have a driver’s license suspension for refusal to take a chemical test if the driver is under 21 (implied consent under 21; DUI (BAC between 0.02 percent and 0.079 percent); or BAC of 0.15 percent or greater. The fee for a TAL is $100. The individual can get a TAL while the results of their hearing are pending and can use the TAL until the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) receives the results of the hearing.

If the driver’s license suspension is sustained, the individual must return the TAL. They can apply for a route restricted driver’s license. If the driver’s license suspension is overturned, they also must return the TAL and can apply for their regular license.

Route-Restricted Driver’s License

An individual is eligible to get a route-restricted driver’s license only once in their lifetime. A route-restricted driver’s license is similar to a restricted license or hardship license in other states. The individual can use it to drive to work, school, their ADSAP program and their court-ordered drug program. A route restricted driver’s license is valid for the length of the standard license suspension.

Second Offense South Carolina DUI

A second DUI is a misdemeanor. Penalties for a subsequent offense include five days to one year of incarceration; a fine between $2,100 and $5,100; completion of the ADSAP program; one-year driver’s license suspension period; and two years' IID installation. South Carolina’s look-back period for a DUI is 10 years.

If the individual’s BAC was between 0.10 and 0.159 percent, the penalties rise to 30 days to two years of incarceration and a fine between $2,500 and $5,500. If the individual’s BAC was 0.16 percent or more, the penalties increase to 90 days to three years of incarceration and a fine between $3,500 and $6,500.

Third Offense South Carolina DUI

A third DUI is a felony. The penalties for a third offense include 60 days to three years of incarceration; a fine between $3,800 and $6,300; completion of the ASAP program; two years' driver’s license suspension; and three years' installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) according to SC Code of Laws 56:5. When the individual gets a third DUI conviction within five years of the first DUI conviction, the penalty rises to four years' driver’s license revocation and four years' IID installation. When the individual commits a third offense within 10 years of the first offense, the vehicle involved will be confiscated.

The state will only confiscate the motor vehicle if the offender is the owner of the vehicle or a resident of the household of the owner. When the individual drives with a BAC between 0.10 and 0.159 percent, the penalties increase to 90 days to four years of incarceration and a fine between $5,000 and $7,500; with a BAC of 0.16 percent or above, the penalties rise to between six months and five years of incarceration and a fine between $7,500 and $10,000.

What Is a DUAC?

South Carolina has a relatively unique offense called “Driving With an Unlawful Alcohol Concentration” (DUAC). A DUAC involves driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or above, but there is no determination of impaired driving. This type of offense is termed a “per se” DUI in other states.

A DUAC incurs roughly the same penalties as a DUI. It is also counted as a DUI for the purpose of sentence enhancement. The exceptions to this rule regarding penalties is that a third DUAC is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by not more than three years of incarceration. A third DUI is a Class F felony, punishable by not more than five years of incarceration, according to SC Code of Laws 16:1.

South Carolina's DUI Treatment Court

An individual with a second or subsequent DUI conviction or a felony DUI who admits they have a serious alcohol addiction may be eligible for DUI Treatment Court. Other qualifications include being 18 years or older and not having pending charges that prevent the completion of the program, according to the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office. DUI Treatment Court involves at least 12 months of treatment, random drug testing and bimonthly or monthly attendance at court, depending how far the individual has advanced in the program. If the defendant successfully completes DUI Treatment Court, the court will dismiss their charges.

Refusal to Take Chemical Test

An individual age 21 or older who refuses to submit to a blood, urine or breath test faces an automatic 90-day driver’s license suspension for the first incident. They will face an automatic 180-day suspension if they have a second or subsequent alcohol-related conviction within the past 10 years. A driver under 21 who refuses to submit to a blood, urine or breathalyzer test will face six months' driver’s license suspension for the first incident.

A driver under 21 who has a previous conviction for DUI or has refused to give a sample within the past three years and refuses for a second or subsequent time will suffer a driver’s license suspension of one year. The individual will also have to complete the ADSAP program.

Penalties for Underage DUI Charge

A driver under 21 with a BAC of 0.02 percent or above will suffer a driver’s license suspension of three months for a first offense, according to SC Code of Laws 56:1. A driver under 21 with a prior DUI will suffer a driver’s license suspension for six months. Drivers of underage DUIs must also complete the ADSAP program. The offense for underage drivers does not count as a prior DUI.

Drunk Driving Videotaping Laws

When a law enforcement officer stops and later arrests an individual for a DUI, they must videotape the traffic stop and arrest. An officer must begin the video recording as soon as they or another officer turn on their blue lights. When the officer stops the individual driving a motor vehicle, they must tape any field sobriety tests they conduct. When the officer reads the individual their Miranda rights, this must be taped as well.

An officer must tape the individual’s behavior for a 20-minute waiting period before taking the chemical test. The officer must tape the breath test as well as their warnings to the individual about implied consent laws, according to South Carolina Code of Laws 56:5. The law provides that an individual’s refusal to take a field sobriety test does not constitute disobeying a police command. The video recordings of the incident site and the breath test site are admissible as evidence in a criminal, administrative or civil proceeding by any party to the action.

Habitual Offender DUI

South Carolina defines a habitual offender as an individual who has accumulated three qualifying driving-related convictions within a three-year period. The list of offenses include DUI and reckless driving. The three convictions must be for separate offenses arising out of different acts. After the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles designates an individual as a habitual offender, it will revoke or suspend that person’s driver’s license.