Driving under the influence (DUI) is an offense that gets a lot of attention from community organizations and advocacy groups. With so much attention on getting designated drivers and drunk driving, some people assume that a DUI automatically leads to a felony charge. However, that’s not always the case.
What is a DUI?
If you are pulled over in South Carolina while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will likely be charged with a DUI. There are two parts to this driving violation. First is the administrative side, which is handled by the SC Department of Motor Vehicles The second is the criminal aspect.
Being charged with a DUI does not automatically result in a felony. In fact, a first offense is usually a misdemeanor–if no one was injured. Yet, there are scenarios that cause a DUI to result in a felony charge (SECTION 56-5-2910).
When does a DUI become a felony in South Carolina?
A person will typically be charged with a felony DUI when their decision to drive under the influence leads to property damage or great bodily injury or death to a person other than the driver. The law considers “great bodily injury” to include injuries that involve:
- a high risk of death
- serious or permanent disfigurement
- loss of limbs
- impaired function
This situation can occur in many different scenarios.
- Suppose you are driving under the influence and get into a car accident with another driver. If the other driver suffers serious bodily injuries as a result of the accident, you could be charged with a felony DUI.
- Another possible scenario is that you’re driving under the influence and you run over a pedestrian that’s walking along the side of the road. The pedestrian is seriously injured. This could also be a felony DUI.
- If you get into a car accident while driving under the influence, and a passenger in your car suffered great bodily injury that, too, could lead to a felony DUI charge.
What each of these scenarios has in common is that a person other than the drunk driver was gravely injured as a result of the driver’s decision to drink and drive. In these cases, especially if the injured person suffers permanent damage or dies, then the driver can reasonably expect a felony DUI charge.
Penalties for felony DUI in SC
Since felony DUI charges are usually the direct result of great bodily injury or death to another person, the penalties for this charge are more serious than for a misdemeanor DUI.
A DUI that causes great bodily injury is punishable by:
- Mandatory imprisonment ranging from 30 days up to 15 years
- Mandatory fine between $5,100 up to $10,100
- Suspension of driver’s license for the period of imprisonment plus three years
A DUI that causes death is punishable by:
- Mandatory imprisonment ranging from one year up to 25 years
- Mandatory fine between $10,100 to $25,100
- Suspension of driver’s license for the period of imprisonment plus five years
Common questions about DUIs
Can felony DUI charges be expunged?
No, DUI offenses are not eligible for expungement.
Will I lose my license permanently?
That depends. A felony DUI will nearly always result in a suspended license. However, after a fourth DUI your driving privileges will be permanently revoked.
If convicted, can I still own a gun?
No, in South Carolina convicted felons cannot own or carry guns or ammunition. You also lose your gun rights while you are awaiting trial for a felony charge.
How will a felony DUI conviction affect my employment?
The exact effects on your career will depend on your employer and the type of work you do. If the restrictions on your driving privileges prevent you from performing necessary job duties, you could be out of a job.
What’s more, many employers insist on good driving records for their insurance purposes. If employees have felony DUIs or other blemishes on their driving records, the company’s insurance rates and premiums could increase or even affect the business’s ability to obtain insurance coverage.
What if I was charged with vehicular manslaughter?
If a person dies as a result of injuries caused by your drunk driving, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter–even if their death occurred up to three years after the injuries. Vehicular manslaughter can mean fines ranging from $1,000 to 5,000, up to 10 years of imprisonment, and suspension of your driver’s license for up to five years.
Will a felony DUI conviction appear on my background check?
Yes, convictions show up on background checks. However, an arrest may or may not appear, depending on the type of background check requested by a company.
Is it possible to get a felony DUI dropped to a misdemeanor?
It’s possible, but unlikely. In order to get a felony charge downgraded to a misdemeanor, you need a qualified lawyer and you need to act quickly.
What if I got a DUI while on probation for a felony?
Since a DUI counts as violating the law, chances are that your probation for your original charge could be revoked. Consulting an attorney is your best bet for navigating the specific factors of your case.