What is a “felony DUI” in SC?
Most driving under the influence charges in SC are considered misdemeanor offenses, although a DUI fourth or subsequent with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 or greater can carry as much as seven years in prison if convicted.
A felony DUI, however, is different. When a person is killed or seriously injured in a car accident, it is a felony offense, the potential penalties are much harsher, and the prosecution is more likely to demand substantial prison time as a consequence.
In this article, we will go over the basics of felony DUI in SC, including:
- The definitions of felony DUI in SC law,
- Why “ordinary” DUIs are not classified as felonies, and
- The potential punishment when a person is convicted of felony DUI.
What Types of DUIs are Charged as Felonies in SC?
There are two types of felony DUI in SC – felony DUI that results in someone’s death and felony DUI that results in great bodily injury to a person.
The elements of a felony DUI that the prosecution must prove to get a conviction are different from the elements of an “ordinary” DUI or DUAC. Below, we will look at the types of DUIs in SC that are considered felony offenses and the elements of the two types of felony DUI.
South Carolina DUI vs. Felony DUI
“Felony DUI” in SC doesn’t exactly mean “a DUI that is a felony.” “Felony DUI” refers to a specific offense that is referred to as “felony DUI,” but the elements that must be proven at trial are different from the elements of DUI or DUAC.
DUI 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or subsequent offenses are classified as misdemeanors. SC’s DUI laws are found in Article 6, Chapter 5 of the SC Code. SC Code § 56-5-6190 says that “It is a misdemeanor for any person to violate any of the provisions of this chapter unless such violation is by this chapter or other law of this State declared to be a felony.”
SC’s DUI statutes, found in SC Code § 56-5-2930, do not specify whether a conviction is a felony offense or a misdemeanor offense, and DUI 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or subsequent offenses are misdemeanor offenses because they are not “declared to be a felony” in Chapter 5 or by any “other law of this State.”
The separate offense of “felony DUI,” however, specifically makes a conviction a felony offense because the statute says it is a felony.
What is Felony DUI in SC?
SC Code § 56-5-2945 contains the elements of the offense of felony DUI in SC. To convict a person of felony DUI, the prosecution must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant:
- Was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs,
- Drove a motor vehicle while under the influence,
- Caused an accident through their negligence (“does any act forbidden by law or neglects any duty imposed by law in the driving of the motor vehicle”), and
- The defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of great bodily injury or death to another person.
It’s not enough if the state proves the defendant was driving while intoxicated, or even that the defendant caused an accident while intoxicated. The prosecutor must also prove that the defendant’s negligence while driving was the proximate cause of another person’s injury or death.
The injury or death could be to the occupants of another vehicle, a pedestrian, or even the passengers in the defendant’s vehicle, but it must be an injury to another person – if the defendant only hurt themselves in a crash, that is charged as an “ordinary” DUI.
To be charged with felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury, the person’s injuries must “create a substantial risk of death” or cause “serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”
If the injuries are less severe, the defendant can only be charged with the “traditional” offense of DUI and not felony DUI.
Penalties for Felony DUI in SC
Apart from the potential for civil liability, a conviction for felony DUI carries harsh consequences in SC.
Law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges take felony DUI charges seriously – law enforcement will ordinarily conduct a more thorough investigation, felony DUI prosecutors are less likely to make a reasonable plea offer, and judges are more likely to give substantial prison time after a plea or conviction at trial.
Because 1) these cases often get media attention and 2) there is often a victim or victim’s family who want the defendant to receive the harshest punishment possible. No prosecutor or judge wants to see themselves on the evening news if a defendant receives a sentence that is “not harsh enough” or if a defendant is released and kills someone else in another DUI crash.
Because of this, you will need a felony DUI defense lawyer who has experience investigating, negotiating, and trying felony DUI cases to maximize your chances of getting your case dismissed, negotiating a reasonable plea offer, or winning your case at trial.
The penalties if convicted include:
- A substantial fine,
- Mandatory minimum prison sentences,
- Driver’s license suspension,
- After release from prison, ignition interlock device (IID) requirements (three years if great bodily injury and five years if death), and
- A criminal record that cannot be expunged.
Felony DUI with Death
A conviction for felony DUI resulting in death carries a fine of up to twenty-five thousand one hundred dollars, a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison, and up to 25 years in prison.
Felony DUI with Great Bodily Injury
A conviction for felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury carries a fine of up to ten thousand one hundred dollars, a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, and up to 15 years in prison.
Questions About Felony DUI in SC?
DUI Attorney Kent Collins will investigate your charges, answer your questions, and do everything legally and ethically possible to get your case dismissed, win your case at trial, or find a resolution that is fair and reasonable.
Get in touch with Kent by phone at 803-808-0905 or use this form to reach him online to schedule your in-person consultation.
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