Factors That Lead to a Felony DUI in South Carolina

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The state of South Carolina will charge a driver with felony DUI when the individual causes great bodily injury or death while driving under the influence. The state will also charge an individual with felony DUI if the offense is the individual’s third or subsequent DUI within 10 years. The penalties for felony DUI differ depending on the number of DUIs the defendant has committed and the reason they were charged.

The state of South Carolina will charge a driver with felony DUI when the individual causes great bodily injury or death while driving under the influence. The state will also charge an individual with felony DUI if the offense is the individual’s third or subsequent DUI within 10 years.

Definition of DUI in South Carolina

A DUI is defined as driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety's SC Laws Relative to Impaired Driving. If an individual has a BAC of at least 0.05 percent, but less than 0.08 percent, their BAC level may be considered together with other evidence to determine if they were driving under the influence.

It is a violation of South Carolina’s zero tolerance law for an individual under the age of 21 to drive with a BAC of 0.02 percent or above. An administrative suspension for an underage driver for driving with a BAC between 0.02 and 0.079 percent does not count as a prior DUI.

Penalties for Third DUI Offense

Penalties for a third DUI arrest include 60 days to three years of incarceration; a fine of between $3,800 and $6,300; additional fines and surcharges; completion of a state substance abuse treatment program; two years' driver’s license suspension; and three years' installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). If the third offense occurs within five years of the first offense, the penalty increases to four years' driver’s license suspension and four years' IID installation. If the individual commits a third offense within 10 years of the first offense, the vehicle involved in the incident will be confiscated. The offender must be the owner of the vehicle or a resident of the household of the owner in order for a confiscation to take place.

With a BAC between 0.10 and 0.159 percent, the period of incarceration increases to between 90 days and four years, and the fine increases to between $5,000 and $7,500. With a BAC of 0.16 percent or above, the period of incarceration increases to between six months and five years. The fine increases to between $7,500 and $10,000. No part of the minimum sentence for a DUI offender may be suspended. A judge may provide for a sentence to be served upon terms and conditions that they consider proper, including weekend or nighttime service.

Read More:What Is Suspicion of DUI?

Penalties for Fourth DUI Offense

Penalties for a fourth or subsequent DUI include one year to five years of incarceration, completion of a state substance abuse treatment program, permanent driver’s license revocation and permanent (lifetime) IID installation. If the individual’s BAC was between 0.10 and 0.159 percent, the period of incarceration increases to between two and six years. If the individual’s BAC was 0.16 percent or above, the period of incarceration increases to between three and seven years.

Serious Bodily Injury or Death

A great bodily injury is defined as injury that creates a substantial risk of death or causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. Penalties for causing great bodily injury as a result of impaired driving include 30 days to 15 years of incarceration, a fine of between $5,100 and $10,100 and completion of a state substance abuse treatment program. There are additional costs for assessments and surcharges beyond the fine.

Penalties for causing death include one to 25 years of incarceration and a fine of between $10,100 and $25,100, as well as additional costs for assessments and surcharges.

What Is a DUAC?

The term Driving With an Unlawful Alcohol Concentration refers to driving with a BAC of above 0.08 percent, according to SC Code of Laws 56:5. In other states, the technical term for a DUAC would be a “per se” DUI. The individual is not required to have engaged in impaired driving; they are presumed to have committed drunk driving based on the amount of alcohol in their system.

The penalties for a DUAC are roughly the same as for a DUI. Further, when a defendant has a history of DUIs and DUACs, a DUAC will count as a DUI to enhance a sentence. The exception to this rule is that a third DUI is a Class F felony, whereas a third DUAC is a Class A misdemeanor. A fourth or subsequent DUAC is a Class F felony, according to SC Code of Laws 16:1.

Habitual Offenders in South Carolina

A habitual traffic offender is an individual who has accumulated three qualifying driving-related offenses within a three-year period. Offenses include: DUI; reckless driving; any offense punishable as a felony under the motor vehicle laws of South Carolina or any felony in which a motor vehicle is used; voluntary manslaughter; involuntary manslaughter; or reckless homicide resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle. The three convictions must be separate and distinct offenses arising out of separate acts.

When the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles determines that an individual is a habitual offender, it must revoke or suspend that person’s driver’s license.

DUI Treatment Court

An individual charged with a felony DUI may be eligible to complete DUI Treatment Court, according to the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office. The individual must have a history of alcohol or drug dependency, be at least 18 years of age and have committed a second or subsequent DUI or a felony DUI. An individual is not eligible to complete the program if they have pending charges that would prevent completion of the program.

DUI Treatment Court involves attending substance abuse support group meetings, random drug and alcohol testing, appearing in DUI Treatment Court regularly and securing employment. When the individual successfully completes the program, the judge may dismiss the case or terminate the sentence so the defendant will not serve jail time.

Classification of Offenses Under South Carolina Law

In South Carolina, felonies are divided into six classes, A through F, according to SC Code of Laws 16:1. A third or subsequent DUI is a Class F felony, punishable by not more than five years of incarceration. Unlawful driving by a habitual offender resulting in death is a Class C felony, punishable by not more than 20 years of incarceration.

Unlawful driving by a habitual offender resulting in great bodily injury is a Class E felony, punishable by not more than 10 years of prison time. A felony DUI resulting in death is classified as a violent crime. A person is not eligible for a diversion program like DUI Treatment Court if they plead guilty to a violent crime.

How a Lawyer Can Help with a Felony DUI Case

An individual with a history of DUI cases and at risk of a new DUI conviction should consult a defense lawyer. The lawyer can determine whether any of the prior convictions will count to enhance the defendant’s sentence. The lawyer can also determine whether the current felony DUI or DUAC charge could be reduced to a misdemeanor DUI.