DUI Laws in South Carolina

This article provides a comprehensive overview of DUI laws in South Carolina, including definitions, penalties, legal procedures, and resources for those affected by DUI charges.

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in South Carolina, carrying significant legal consequences. This article provides a comprehensive overview of DUI laws in the state, including definitions, penalties, legal procedures, and resources for those affected by DUI charges. By understanding these laws, individuals can better navigate the legal system and make informed decisions.

Definition of DUI in South Carolina

In South Carolina, DUI is defined by the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the driver. The legal BAC limits are as follows:

  • 0.08% or higher for drivers aged 21 and over.
  • 0.02% or higher for drivers under the age of 21.
  • 0.04% or higher for commercial vehicle drivers.

These limits are established under South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56-5-2930.

Impairment Without BAC Evidence

A driver can also be charged with DUI if they are impaired by alcohol or drugs to the extent that their ability to drive is materially and appreciably impaired, even if their BAC is below the legal limit. This is covered under South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56-5-2930.

Penalties for DUI in South Carolina

First Offense

For a first-time DUI offense, the penalties include:

  • Fines: $400 to $1,000.
  • Jail Time: 48 hours to 30 days.
  • License Suspension: Six months.
  • Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP): Mandatory participation.

Second Offense

A second DUI offense within ten years carries harsher penalties:

  • Fines: $2,100 to $5,100.
  • Jail Time: Five days to one year.
  • License Suspension: One year.
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID): Mandatory installation for two years.

Third Offense

For a third DUI offense, the penalties are even more severe:

  • Fines: $3,800 to $6,300.
  • Jail Time: 60 days to three years.
  • License Suspension: Two years.
  • IID: Mandatory installation for three years.

Fourth and Subsequent Offenses

A fourth or subsequent DUI offense is classified as a felony:

  • Fines: Determined by the court.
  • Jail Time: One to five years.
  • Permanent License Revocation: Possible.

Enhanced Penalties for High BAC

If a driver’s BAC is 0.15% or higher, enhanced penalties apply, including longer jail sentences and higher fines.

Penalties for Underage DUI

Drivers under 21 with a BAC of 0.02% or higher face:

  • Fines: Up to $400.
  • License Suspension: Three months for a first offense, six months for subsequent offenses.

Arrest and Booking

When a driver is suspected of DUI, they are typically arrested and taken to a police station for booking. This process includes:

  • Fingerprinting.
  • Photographing.
  • Recording personal information.

South Carolina’s implied consent law requires drivers to submit to chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine) if suspected of DUI. Refusal to take these tests results in automatic license suspension:

  • First Refusal: Six months.
  • Second Refusal: Nine months.
  • Third Refusal: One year.

Administrative License Suspension

Upon arrest for DUI, the driver’s license is immediately confiscated, and they are issued a temporary permit. The driver has ten days to request an administrative hearing to contest the suspension.

DUI Court Process

The DUI court process includes several stages:

  • Arraignment: The defendant is formally charged and enters a plea.
  • Pre-Trial Motions: Both sides may file motions, such as to suppress evidence.
  • Trial: The case is presented before a judge or jury.
  • Sentencing: If found guilty, the defendant is sentenced according to the law.

Defendants have the right to legal representation. If they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to them.

DUI Defense Strategies

Challenging the Traffic Stop

A common defense strategy is to challenge the legality of the traffic stop. If the stop was not based on reasonable suspicion, any evidence obtained may be inadmissible.

Questioning the Accuracy of BAC Tests

Defense attorneys may question the accuracy of BAC tests by examining:

  • Calibration of testing equipment.
  • Proper administration of the test.
  • Chain of custody of the test samples.

Proving Lack of Impairment

Another strategy is to demonstrate that the driver was not impaired, despite the BAC level. This can involve:

  • Witness testimony.
  • Video evidence.
  • Medical conditions that could affect BAC results.

DUI and Commercial Drivers

Lower BAC Threshold

Commercial drivers are held to a stricter BAC limit of 0.04%. Violations can result in:

  • Disqualification from operating commercial vehicles.
  • Fines and jail time similar to non-commercial DUI penalties.

Impact on Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

A DUI conviction can lead to:

  • One-year disqualification for a first offense.
  • Lifetime disqualification for a second offense.

DUI and Minors

Zero Tolerance Policy

South Carolina has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under 21. A BAC of 0.02% or higher results in:

  • License suspension.
  • Fines.
  • Mandatory ADSAP participation.

Juvenile Court

Minors charged with DUI may be tried in juvenile court, which focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

DUI and Drugs

Drug-Impaired Driving

Driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is treated similarly to alcohol-related DUI. This includes:

  • Prescription medications.
  • Illegal drugs.
  • Over-the-counter medications that impair driving ability.

Penalties for DUID

Penalties for DUID mirror those for alcohol-related DUI, including fines, jail time, and license suspension.

DUI and Accidents

Aggravating Factors

If a DUI results in an accident causing injury or death, penalties are significantly increased. This includes:

  • Felony charges.
  • Longer prison sentences.
  • Higher fines.

Civil Liability

In addition to criminal penalties, drivers may face civil lawsuits for damages caused by DUI-related accidents.

DUI and Insurance

Increased Premiums

A DUI conviction typically results in higher insurance premiums. Insurers view DUI offenders as high-risk drivers.

SR-22 Requirement

Drivers convicted of DUI may be required to file an SR-22 form, which is a certificate of financial responsibility. This ensures that the driver carries the minimum required insurance coverage.

DUI Expungement

Eligibility for Expungement

In South Carolina, DUI convictions are generally not eligible for expungement. However, certain related charges, such as reckless driving, may be expunged under specific conditions.

Process for Expungement

To expunge eligible charges, individuals must:

  • File a petition with the court.
  • Pay a fee.
  • Attend a hearing.

Resources for DUI Offenders

Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP)

ADSAP is a mandatory program for DUI offenders, focusing on education and treatment. More information can be found on the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) website.

Individuals charged with DUI should seek legal assistance. The South Carolina Bar Association provides resources for finding qualified attorneys.

Support Groups

Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), offer support and resources for individuals struggling with substance abuse.

Additional Considerations

Ignition Interlock Device

For certain DUI offenders, the court may require the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). This device prevents the vehicle from starting if the driver has a detectable amount of alcohol in their system.

Unlawful Alcohol Concentration

South Carolina law defines unlawful alcohol concentration (UAC) as a BAC of 0.08% or higher. This definition is crucial for understanding DUI charges and penalties.

Probable Cause

For a DUI arrest to be lawful, law enforcement officers must have probable cause to believe that the driver is impaired. Without probable cause, the arrest may be challenged in court.

Jail Time and Mandatory Fines

DUI convictions in South Carolina often result in jail time and mandatory fines. The severity of these penalties depends on the number of prior offenses and any aggravating factors.

Blood Alcohol Level and BAC Tests

The blood alcohol level is determined through BAC tests, which can include breath, blood, or urine tests. The accuracy and administration of these tests are critical for DUI cases.

Subsequent Offense Penalties

Penalties for subsequent DUI offenses are more severe than those for first-time offenses. Repeat offenders face longer jail sentences, higher fines, and extended license suspension periods.

Law Enforcement Officers' Role

Law enforcement officers play a crucial role in DUI cases. They conduct traffic stops, administer field sobriety tests, and gather evidence for prosecution.

Public Service Requirements

In addition to other penalties, DUI offenders may be required to complete public service hours. This is part of the effort to rehabilitate offenders and integrate them back into the community.

Court Costs and Additional Tests

DUI convictions often result in significant court costs. Offenders may also be required to undergo additional tests, such as substance abuse assessments and continuous alcohol monitoring.


Understanding DUI laws in South Carolina is crucial for drivers to avoid severe legal consequences. By adhering to legal BAC limits, participating in mandatory programs, and seeking legal assistance when needed, individuals can navigate the complexities of DUI charges. For more detailed information, refer to official state resources and legal statutes.

For further information, visit the South Carolina Department of Public Safety website.

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Von Wooding

Von Wooding

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