Tough New South Carolina DUI Penalties Typical of National Movements to Step Up Laws
By: Mike Stetzer
Since being reelected in 2006, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has been on a mission to bring South Carolina's DUI statutes up to par with DUI laws across the United States . He made the issue a top priority for the state legislative session earlier this year, and after months of working with members of the state's house and senate, finally managed to sign into law a DUI bill that U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters recently praised as "one of the strictest in the country."
The steps taken by South Carolina to step up their penalties to deter DUI offenders are a model for how tough and effective legislation gets passed. While avoiding some amendments that stripped the bill of its toughest penalties, Sanford was able to use his bully pulpit as governor to encourage and cajole state legislators into action.
The urgency for Sanford's push came from startling statistics: South Carolina is the second-worst state in the nation for alcohol-related car accidents. Close to half of all automobile crashes in the state (or 42%) involve alcohol, a figure that Sanford pledged to lower in his State of the State address upon reelection:
- "Reforming DUI laws in our state is long overdue. Every day someone in South Carolina dies because of a drunk driver; and more than a third of all drivers arrested for DUI are repeat offenders. We rank second-worst in the nation in DUI because our laws are anemic.
- And we can't afford this carnage on our roadways and expect to be competitive; I beg for change in the first 30 days of the session."
Sanford even took recourse on YouTube, creating a series of videos on his own YouTube channel, GovernorSanford, that highlighted the emotional toll that drunk driving takes on families in South Carolina. He taped a video in his office with a SC woman who lost a family member in a crash involving a drunk driver.
And Sanford's pressure seemed to work. Though South Carolina House and Senate chambers quibbled on technical details of the bills as they were read and voted on, a majority of South Carolina lawmakers stood behind Sanford's desires for reform.
The new bill that was signed into South Carolina DUI law in late April steps up both criminal penalties and administrative sanctions against those arrested for and convicted of DUI. Offenders at each level of infraction-both in terms of level of intoxication as well as number of convictions-can expect to see a dramatic increase in the required penalties.
First-time DUI offenders face a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of up to 90 days, and the penalties increase from there. Second-time offenders face up to three years, third-time offenders up to five years and fourth-time offenders face the harshest penalty of all: a mandatory seven-year jail sentence. Obviously, that final penalty shows that South Carolina lawmakers meant business when they determined to clamp down on drunk driving.
The state will also be cracking down on those who refuse breath tests, stepping up penalties for refusing a breath test from a mandatory six-month administrative license suspension to a full year.
Governor Sanford furthermore called for loopholes in the state's DUI law to be closed, ones that let many of those arrested for DUI to be let off scot-free despite persuasive evidence of their guilt. For example, the previous regulations on proper arrest required officers to read those being arrested their Miranda Rights a total of three times during the process!
As many DUI lawyers know, failure to properly comply with proper arrest procedures can be the basis for a legal challenge, leading to a lesser charge or even a full dismissal of a DUI case. The new law only requires the arresting officer to read the Miranda Rights only once, bringing the law in line with that of most other states.
It's important to keep up with the local news in your state, since many states across the country are moving in the direction of South Carolina at the urging of local anti-DUI groups as well as national movements spearheaded by groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).