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What is considered a felony DUI in South Carolina?

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Answered by: Ryan L. Beasley

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Most DUI arrests are charged as misdemeanors. But under South Carolina law, driving under the influence is sometimes prosecuted as a felony.

A drunk driving accident can trigger felony DUI charges
If a driver causes an accident resulting in great bodily injury or death while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it becomes a felony DUI punishable by prison.

Prior DUI convictions can also trigger felony punishment
In South Carolina, felony penalties (mandatory prison time) apply on a fourth offense of DUI.

What is the punishment for felony DUI?

The penalties vary with the specifics of the case:

  • For a fourth or subsequent offense of DUI, the punishment is one year (minimum), up to seven years in prison.
  • For a DUI accident resulting in great bodily injury, the presumptive sentence under South Carolina law is 30 days in jail, up to 15 years in state prison, plus a fine of $5,000 to $10,000.
  • For a DUI accident resulting in fatality, the range is one year (minimum) up to 25 years in prison, plus a fine of $10,000 to $25,000.

That is a wide penalty range. In deciding the punishment, the court may consider the nature of the accident, prior DUIs, aggravating factors such as child endangerment (passenger under age 16), victim impact statements, and the prosecutor’s recommendation. Per S.C. Code § 56-5-2945, a person convicted of felony DUI must serve at least the statutory minimum jail or prison term, with no option for a suspended sentence or probation.

Can your lawyer change the outcome? 

While DUIs that cause injury or death are commonly charged as felonies, it is important to get the help of an attorney who can intervene early. In favorable circumstances, a defense lawyer may be able to convince the prosecutor not to bring felony DUI charges. There may be insufficient evidence to support the charge. Or the state may allow the accused to plead guilty to a misdemeanor DUI or reckless driving in exchange for dropping the felony charge. 

If the charges have already been filed and the prosecutor will not budge, there are two choices. We can fight the case at trial or try to work out a resolution that minimizes prison time. I would examine every aspect of the state’s case for possible defenses or mitigating factors such as:

  • Field sobriety tests as the basis for a DUI arrest
  • The administration and results of breath or blood tests
  • The conduct of the arresting officer
  • Contributory negligence on the part of the victim leading up to the accident 

A felony DUI will have a huge and enduring impact on your life 

Because of the severe penalties and lifelong consequences, anyone facing a felony DUI should contact a lawyer immediately. 

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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