How Much Tougher Do The DUI Laws in South Carolina Need To Be?
By: Gerri Elder
In South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford and the state legislature have decided on a goal. Their goal is to crack down on drunk driving in the state and pass tougher DUI laws. The problem is, the proposed laws are not at all clear.
The bills that are winding through the state legislature propose confusing tiers of penalties for people convicted of DUI in South Carolina. The House bill is a tougher bill than the one in the Senate, but the bills are very similar at their cores. The legislation will make its way to a conference committee, where the Governor is hopeful that some of the new rules regarding DUI punishments can be ironed out in such a way that they will make sense to law enforcement and the courts. Otherwise the new legislation will be quite worthless, since no one will be quite sure what it all means.
The mandatory penalties for DUI in South Carolina will increase if this new legislation is passed. Everyone is sure of that. It will certainly mean that more people who are arrested for DUI will head to court to fight the charges, and that means that the arresting officers will have to be in court more often to provide testimony. That can only mean that there will be fewer officers out on the roads.
The state had been threatened with the loss of federal road funds if the legislature did not approve the current standard of intoxication of 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content, and therefore it was approved. However, in South Carolina, a judge and jury have effectively become the method of measuring intoxication. During a jury trial, the jury is instructed that the blood-alcohol content has little to no meaning in the case and that the jurors are to determine whether or not the person was driving while impaired. It makes no difference if a driver blows a .08 or a .14 on a breath test in South Carolina; during a jury trial, the focus is on impairment. So if a driver with a high blood-alcohol content functions as well as someone who has not been drinking, the jury must find them not guilty of DUI.
The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina reported that C. Rauch Wise, a member of the board of the National Defense Lawyers and an attorney in Greenwood, South Carolina, has pointed out that the proposed penalties for drivers who refuse to take a breath test could wind up being more severe than the DUI penalties for people convicted of DUI in the state. Wise says that the state is constructing a system of double jeopardy that opens itself up to challenges.
Wise recently wrote in a column for The Post and Courier that there has been a 68 percent decrease in DUI arrests in South Carolina over the past 30 years. Given those statistics, it would seem that whatever method of deterring drunk driving South Carolina is currently using has been working.
South Carolina already has fairly tough DUI laws. It is estimated that for the first offense, penalties and increased insurance costs can easily exceed $10,000.
Critics of the proposed DUI penalties wonder how much tougher the laws need to be, while advocates of the new laws say that the number of alcohol-related injuries and fatalities is still way too high.