When Does a DUI Become a Felony in SC?

When Does a DUI Become a Felony in SC?

Some DUIs in SC are misdemeanors, while others are felony offenses. What makes a DUI a felony in SC? 

Felony DUI charges usually involve a death or a serious injury – these cases are complex, often receive media coverage, and are aggressively prosecuted by police and prosecutors who may be under pressure from a victim or their family to get a conviction and prison sentence. 

These cases are different from an “ordinary” DUI in terms of what the State must prove in order to get a conviction, how seriously the State will take your prosecution, and the severity of the potential penalties. 

In this article you will learn:

  • What a felony DUI looks like
  • What the punishment for a conviction of felony DUI includes

What is a “Felony DUI?”

“Felony DUI” refers to a DUI where the driver crashed, and someone was killed or where great bodily injury resulted. 

A fourth-offense (or more) DUI or DUAC is also a felony, but it is not a “felony DUI.” 

Two Types of DUIs That Are Felonies

1. Fourth and Subsequent DUIs

“Ordinary” DUI (driving under the influence) or DUAC (driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration) charges are classified as misdemeanor offenses unless you have three or more prior convictions for DUI. 

Although a fourth or subsequent DUI is a felony, it is not a “felony DUI.” Felony DUI in SC typically refers to a DUI offense where a person is killed or seriously injured. 

2. Felony DUI Resulting in Death or Great Bodily Injury

Felony DUI Resulting in Death

Felony DUI is defined in SC Code Section 56-5-2945. To be convicted of felony DUI, the state must prove that a person:

  • Was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both;
  • Was driving a motor vehicle;
  • Committed “any act forbidden by law or neglect[ed] any duty imposed by law” while driving; and
  • That “act or neglect proximately cause[d] great bodily injury or death to another person.” 

Committing an act forbidden by law or neglecting a duty imposed by law ordinarily means committing a traffic violation – that could be speeding, not using a turn signal, blowing through a stop sign, or driving down the wrong side of the highway.

If the state proves that a person 1) was driving 2) while under the influence and 3) that they committed a traffic violation, they must still prove 4) that the traffic violation caused someone’s death

Proximate cause is defined as “An act from which an injury results as a natural, direct, uninterrupted consequence and without which the injury would not have occurred.” In other words, but for the traffic violation committed by the drunk driver, the other person would not have died. 

Even if a person is driving while drunk, there is no felony DUI unless the state proves both a traffic violation and proximate cause beyond any reasonable doubt. 

Felony DUI Resulting in Great Bodily Injury

Felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury has the same elements as felony DUI resulting in death (see above), except there was no death. Instead, 1) the traffic violation committed by a person who was 2) driving 3) while intoxicated 4) resulted in great bodily injury

As with felony DUI resulting in death, the traffic violation must be the proximate cause of the other person’s great bodily injury. But what does great bodily injury mean? 

SC Code Section 56-5-2945(B) defines great bodily injury as an “injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”

So, for example, a broken nose would probably not qualify. But third-degree burns, a punctured organ, or any injury that results in disability probably would qualify. 

If there is an accident, a driver is intoxicated, and someone is injured in the accident, it’s still not a felony DUI unless the injuries meet the definition of “great bodily injury” above. Other DUI accidents are charged as an “ordinary” DUI or DUAC. 

What are the Penalties for Felony DUI in SC?

Felony DUI, and DUI fourth or subsequent which is a felony, carry more severe penalties than other types of DUI offenses in SC, as well as collateral consequences that are not always obvious. 

Fourth and Subsequent DUIs

A fourth-offense (or more) DUI conviction carries the most severe penalties of any “ordinary” DUI offense in SC. 

If convicted, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) “for life” (although there is a process to regain your license and remove the IID after five years), and you could be sent to prison for as much as seven years depending on the blood alcohol content (BAC) result:

  • BAC less than .10: 1-5 years in prison;
  • BAC .10 up to .15: 2-6 years in prison; and
  • BAC .15 or greater: 3-7 years in prison.

Felony DUI Resulting in Death

Felony DUI resulting in death carries a potential sentence of no less than one year and up to 25 years in prison, and a fine of $10,100 to $25,100.

The person’s license is suspended, and, after they are released from prison, they must install an ignition interlock device, enroll in the Ignition Interlock Device Program pursuant to SC Code Section 56-5-2941, and for the next five years they can only drive with an ignition interlock restricted license pursuant to SC Code Section 56-1-400

For the mandatory minimum sentence, probation cannot be granted, and the sentence cannot be suspended. 

Felony DUI Resulting in Great Bodily Injury

Felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury carries a potential sentence of no less than 30 days and up to 15 years in prison, and a fine of $5,100 to $10,100.

The person’s license is suspended, and, after they are released from prison, they must install an ignition interlock device, enroll in the Ignition Interlock Device Program pursuant to SC Code Section 56-5-2941, and for the next three years they can only drive with an ignition interlock restricted license pursuant to SC Code Section 56-1-400

For the mandatory minimum sentence, probation cannot be granted, and the sentence cannot be suspended. 

Other Penalties for DUIs That Are Felonies

There are many collateral consequences that could apply to any DUI conviction, including:

  • ADSAP: the Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program;
  • Reinstatement fees paid to the DMV;
  • Supervision fees paid to the Department of Probation, Pardon, and Parole;
  • Ignition interlock device fees; 
  • License suspensions;
  • License revocation as a habitual traffic offender;
  • Social stigma; and
  • Inability to find meaningful employment. 

Charged with a Felony DUI in SC?

If you are charged with felony DUI in SC, the state is going to aggressively prosecute you and try to put you in prison. 

Get an experienced felony DUI defense attorney on your side immediately who can investigate your case, find the evidence to prove your innocence when possible, negotiate with the state, and try your case to a jury when necessary. 

Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.

Ready To Speak With An Attorney?

Let’s discuss the details of your case and see if we can help.

Domestic Violence Laws in SC: Common Questions & Answers

Domestic Violence Laws in SC: Common Questions & Answers

Domestic violence laws in SC keep getting tougher and tougher. Politicians know that it is a charged issue that gets voters fired up – “tough on crime” wins votes, while “fair to the accused” does not.

What this means is that, over time, SC domestic violence laws have made it easier to get arrested and charged with domestic violence, easier to get convicted of domestic violence, and the potential penalties have become harsher.

In this article, we will answer some of the more commonly asked questions about domestic violence laws in SC, including:

  • What is the definition of domestic violence;
  • What are the different types of domestic violence charges;
  • Whether domestic violence is a felony or a misdemeanor;
  • Whether domestic violence charges can be “dropped” by the alleged victim; and
  • Whether a domestic violence conviction can be expunged in SC.

Common Questions About Domestic Violence in SC

Below, we will discuss some of the more common questions that we get about domestic violence laws in SC.

1. What is Domestic Violence in SC?

Domestic violence is a crime that is sometimes charged in General Sessions Court and sometimes charged in the magistrate or municipal courts.

Domestic violence 3rd degree is usually charged in the magistrate (county) or municipal (city) court, while more serious domestic violence charges go to General Sessions Court. Although all domestic violence charges have the same basic elements, the offense can be “upgraded” from domestic violence 3rd degree to a more serious charge if aggravating factors are present. DV 3rd degree is handled in General Sessions court as well.

2. What is the Definition of Domestic Violence in SC?

Domestic violence laws in SC make it unlawful to 1) harm a household member, or 2) threaten or attempt to harm a household member. For domestic violence third degree, the least serious domestic violence offense, that’s all it takes to be arrested and convicted of the offense.

A household member could mean:

  • A spouse;
  • A former spouse;
  • A person with whom you’ve had a child;
  • A person with whom you are “cohabiting” (living together in a romantic relationship) or with whom you have formerly cohabited.

3. What is the Worst Kind of Domestic Violence Charge in SC?

The most serious domestic violence charge in SC is domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature (DVHAN).

You can be convicted of DVHAN if the state proves that you:

1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member and:

1. You showed an “extreme indifference to the value of human life” and “great bodily injury” resulted;

2. You showed an “extreme indifference to the value of human life” and a reasonable person would have feared great bodily injury or death; or

3. The offense would have been domestic violence first degree, but you were violating a restraining order at the time of the offense.

4. Is Domestic Violence a Felony or a Misdemeanor in SC?

Domestic violence laws in SC make the more serious offenses felonies, while the less serious offenses are considered misdemeanors.

DVHAN and Domestic Violence 1st Degree are Felonies

Domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, discussed above, is a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.

Domestic violence first degree is also a felony under SC law, and it is punishable by up to ten years in prison. You can be convicted of domestic violence first degree in SC if the state proves that you: 1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member and:

1. Great bodily injury resulted or could have resulted;

2. The offense would have been domestic violence second degree, but you were violating a protective order;

3. You have two or more domestic violence convictions in the last ten years;

4. You used a firearm while committing the offense; or

5. The offense would have been domestic violence second degree, but any of the following happened during the commission of the offense:

a. It happened in front of a child;

b. The alleged victim was pregnant;

c. It happened while you were also committing a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft;

d. You choked the alleged victim; or

e. You prevented the alleged victim from calling for help.

Domestic Violence Second and Third Degree are Misdemeanors

Domestic violence second and third degree are misdemeanors under SC law.

Domestic violence third degree is the least serious DV offense in SC and requires only that the state prove that you 1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member. It carries a maximum sentence of up to 90 days in jail.

Domestic violence second degree is also a misdemeanor offense, but it carries up to three years in prison if convicted. A conviction for this charge can impact your right to own a firearm.

You can be convicted of domestic violence second degree in SC if the state proves that you: 1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member and:

1. Moderate bodily injury resulted or could have resulted;

2. The offense would have been domestic violence third degree, but you were violating a protective order;

3. You have one prior domestic violence conviction in the last ten years;

4. You used a firearm while committing the offense; or

5. The offense would have been domestic violence third degree, but any of the following happened during the commission of the offense:

a. It happened in front of a child;

b. The alleged victim was pregnant;

c. It happened while you were also committing a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft;

d. You choked the alleged victim; or

e. You prevented the alleged victim from calling for help.

5. Can Domestic Violence Charges be Dropped?

Domestic violence charges can be dropped. The prosecutor can and should dismiss the charges if there is insufficient evidence or if it is in the interest of justice for the case to be dismissed. But will they?

Because of the political and charged nature of domestic violence cases, some prosecutor’s offices will refuse to dismiss DV charges, leaving it to a judge or to a jury (and thereby saving themselves the possibility of bad media coverage that could affect their reelection).

Will a prosecutor dismiss domestic violence charges if the alleged victim asks them to dismiss?

Maybe

Some prosecutors will “rake the victim over the coals,” because they are tired of victims asking them to dismiss cases. Some prosecutors have even threatened alleged victims with jail when they refused to go forward or testify.

What can you do? If you are an alleged victim in a domestic violence case who does not want to go forward with the prosecution, you should seek independent counsel who can advise you as to what you should do before you speak with the prosecutor or their agents.

6. Is Domestic Violence in Front of a Child a Felony?

When domestic violence happens in front of a child, that is an aggravating factor that can “bump the charges up” to the next level – it could be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances.

If a case would have been domestic violence third degree, but it happened in front of a child, it is now charged as a domestic violence second degree – still a misdemeanor but punishable by up to three years.

If a case would have been domestic violence second degree, but it happened in front of a child, it is now charged as a domestic violence first degree – it is now a felony punishable by up to ten years.

7. Does Domestic Violence Have to be Physical?

Although some people assume that it’s not domestic violence unless you hit, push, or get physical with someone, that’s not what the domestic violence laws in SC say.

You can be convicted of domestic violence – even the most serious offense of DVHAN – for just threatening to harm a household member if the other elements are proven by the state.

8. Can Domestic Violence be Expunged in SC?

If you are charged with domestic violence and the case is later dismissed or you are acquitted at trial, all records of the offense can be expunged from your record.

If the case was dismissed or you are convicted, the clerk of court should automatically expunge the charges (but they don’t always – check with your attorney if it is not expunged within a reasonable amount of time).

If you have been convicted of domestic violence third degree and it was a first offense, you can have the conviction expunged after five years, but it is not automatic. You or your attorney must apply for the expungement and follow through to ensure that the records are destroyed.

Need help with your domestic violence charge?

Domestic violence convictions are serious business on your criminal record. There are other consequences you may face besides the potential jail time and potential loss of the right to own a firearm. Your family relationships may become strained, your employment may be in jeopardy, and it may be difficult to find a new job in the future.

Don’t leave your future to chance. Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.

Ready To Speak With An Attorney?

Let’s discuss the details of your case and see if we can help.