South Carolina DUI Laws

South Carolina DUI Laws

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

From its islands and coasts to its black water rivers, South Carolina is famous for its natural beauty and its southern gentility. Host to tourists of all ages, from youthful beachgoers to casual golfers, South Carolina's roads and highways are full of people who should be familiar with the state's DUI laws, especially since South Carolina boasts some of the most unique DUI practices in the country.

Like many other states, South Carolina uses the theory of implied consent to test drivers who an officer suspects of drug or alcohol intoxication while operating a vehicle. Implied consent theory means that every person who drives in the state has granted the state authority to test him or her for blood contamination by alcohol or drugs. The arresting officer need not seek permission or grant a waiting period. Of course, anyone who is arrested still has the right to refuse testing, though tests are often useful in court to either convict or exonerate a DUI suspect.

What South Carolina does that is so unlike other states' practices, in fact a practice unique to South Carolina, is mandatory videotaping of the arrest and breathalyzer test administered by the arresting officer. The videotaping of the inquiry and ensuing arrest is essential to the state's ability to bring a driving under the influence case to court. Unless the arresting officer can prove that there was absolutely no possible way to create a video record of the encounter, a failure to create and present a tape may actually prevent the state from proceeding, causing the non-videotaped case to be dismissed altogether.

South Carolina is the only state to use this videotaping process, mandated by statute. The mandate is an extraordinary burden and cost for the state, but the overwhelming policy goal is to create fair, indisputable evidence that eliminates much of the he-said, she-said type evidence on which so many driving under the influence cases ultimately turn. Videotape evidence is considered to create the fairest, most efficient DUI cases, reaching just verdicts and clearing dockets quickly and cleanly.

In order to establish a conviction for driving under the influence in South Carolina, the prosecution must convince the court, using the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof. The prosecution must show that alcohol or drugs impaired the driver such that he or she was unable to operate a vehicle in the ordinary manner that a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. In addition, blood alcohol evidence may come in to corroborate or enhance the evidence of general impairment while driving.

Anyone convicted of driving under the influence in South Carolina can expect severe penalties. It is unclear whether or not the videotape component of the evidence serves to enhance or diminish the harshness with which judges sentence people found guilty of DUI. At a minimum, a person convicted of DUI for the first time in South Carolina will be subject to $400 in fines and 30 days in jail. As in most other states, judges have ultimate discretion in determining the weight of sentencing, with the ability to substitute community service for imprisonment. Additionally, a judge may order continuing drug and alcohol treatment or education commensurate with the observed needs of the guilty party.