South Dakota DUI laws

When most people think of South Dakota they think of wide, open spaces, rolling plains, and heavy snows. What does not generally come to mind are South Dakota's harsh penalties for driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both. Because of some particular quirks in South Dakota's laws, it is essential to be versed in a few important DUI policies and practices before operating a vehicle in the state.

For starters, what some states call BUI's, or biking under the influence offenses, South Dakota includes in its technical definition of driving under the influence. All states have laws that make it illegal to operate a vehicle while the operator is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. South Dakota is somewhat unique, however, in that it applies a very broad definition of what constitutes a vehicle, including horses and bicycles. Operating one of these vehicles can give rise to an arrest for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. This broad definition is no doubt rooted in social policy concerns that recognize the unduly severe bodily harm any moving thing can cause if operated incorrectly.

Of course, South Dakota's DUI laws are more like the laws of the other states than they are dissimilar to them. As in every state, a DUI arrest in South Dakota triggers two proceedings - one at the South Dakota Department of Motor Vehicles, the other in the South Dakota criminal courts.

The case presented in criminal court will involve criminal standards and the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to support a conviction. Although this is a fairly strident standard of proof, people are convicted of DUI nearly every day, in South Dakota and in other states. In order to secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove that the person in question violated either the per se laws or is guilty on the basis of the traditional driving under the influence theory.

The per se laws in South Dakota make it a crime to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol level at or higher than the legally imposed limit. For people over the legal drinking age, the prohibited blood alcohol level is .08 percent. Because a person who operates any vehicle in South Dakota is considered to have given his implied consent to be tested for substances that would impair his ability to operate the vehicle, refusal to take a blood, breath, or urine test may have consequences extraneous to the imposed DUI sentence.

If the prosecution finds the per se theory inapplicable or inefficient for any reason, they can still proceed on the traditional driving while intoxicated theory in order to reach a conviction. Under the traditional theory, observations made by the arresting officer may be presented as evidence of intoxication. Acceptable observations are all those that suggest impairment, including, but not limited to speech pattern, odor of alcohol, driving pattern, general behavior, overall appearance, and performance on field sobriety tests.

A first time offender in South Dakota can expect license revocation, fines, and even jail time, though much of the sentence and its severity is left to the discretion of the judge assigned to the case.