As a DUI defense lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, I’m oftentimes asked about the “process,” from start to finish, after someone is arrested for DUI. This article provides an overview of the process for someone charged with DUI 1st offense. If it is a DUI 2nd offense or greater, the charge is prosecuted in General Sessions Court, and different rules and penalties apply.
After a person is arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in South Carolina, the court process often takes many months if not longer. If you’re fortunate, the prosecutor may dismiss or “nolle prosse” the DUI charge. Perhaps the prosecutor agrees to let you plead guilty to a lesser charge such as reckless driving. Otherwise, if you don’t plead guilty to the DUI, and the prosecutor doesn’t offer a deal, then your case will be decided in a trial.
Implied Consent Hearings in South Carolina
Separate from dealing with the DUI charge, the person may have an immediate license suspension because the person either refused to submit a breath sample or gave a sample of 0.15% blood alcohol content (BAC) or higher. Click here for a more detailed description of the Implied Consent Hearing process in South Carolina and how the initial suspension can be challenged.
Bench Trial for a DUI in Charleston
After your arrest for a DUI, you’ll be scheduled for a bench trial, which means you’ll go before a judge and you’ll either plead guilty or have the judge decide the case. A person accused of a crime, including a DUI, has a constitutional right to a jury trial. We rarely suggest to our clients that they let a judge decide their case. Instead, we prefer to have six jurors make the decision of whether you’re guilty. So, in most cases, it’s best to request a jury trial. After doing so, the initial court date goes away, and the case is put on the court’s jury roster. Click here if you’d like more information about what happens immediately after your arrest for DUI such as license suspension, vehicle impoundment, bond hearings, and so on.
Preparing to Defend Your DUI
Defending a DUI charge in Charleston, SC or elsewhere requires preparation that includes a complete investigation of all aspects of the arrest. For example, there is a “Brady Motion” that forces the prosecution to a turn over to a DUI defense lawyer all the evidence the prosecution intends to use against you. When we defend DUI’s, we obtain the police report, the in-car video from the police cruiser, and the video from the breathalyzer room. Even if you didn’t submit to a breath test, law enforcement’s words and actions in the breathalyzer room can give us valuable evidence. There are various other pieces of information we like to review, including subpoenaing the dispatch records from the time of the arrest and the officers’ training records.
In cases with BAC readings, we challenge the credentials of the breathalyzer, called the DataMaster (DMT) in South Carolina. We obtain and review all of the machine’s records to uncover whether the DataMaster malfunctioned during the test. Click here to learn some of the ways that a DMT Datamaster test results in South Carolina can be wrong.
In cases involving blood draws, we investigate the circumstances to uncover whether the police followed improper procedures to test your blood. Click here to learn more about blood tests in DUI cases.
In accident cases, we investigate the circumstances the led to the accident because just because an accident occurred, it is not automatically the fault of the person charged with DUI.
In cases where the person was stopped because of a roadblock, we challenge the constitutionality of the roadblock and whether law enforcement lawfully stopped you. There are numerous other scenarios unique to DUI cases, and we will leave no defense “stone” unturned.
The Pending DUI Charge
For most DUI cases, there’s little the client can do, while we do our job to defend you, except to stay out of trouble. Worrying about the DUI charge has no benefit. After we complete our investigation, we make all of the information and evidence available to you, and we’re in a better position to tell you the best defenses to your DUI charge.
Every court has a different procedure. Some courts conduct a “pre-trial” hearing for the purposes of scheduling the trial. At the pre-trial, we have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the prosecutor to negotiate on our client’s behalf. For courts that don’t schedule pre-trials, we call the prosecutor to negotiate. In the meantime, there’s little benefit to rushing your case forward. Sometimes officers or witnesses move away, which means the prosecutor may not be able to prove the case against you. Also, it allows us time to complete our investigation. However, if the charge is having an immediate impact on the client, such as resulting in discipline from an employer or if the client is in the military, we may try to speed the process up. It all depends on the client’s situation and the facts of the case.
Jury Trial for a DUI Charge in South Carolina
If the prosecutor doesn’t negotiate on the DUI charge, then the case will be set for jury trial. Our trials usually take one full day. We begin with a combination of motions to dismiss, motions to exclude evidence, and selection of the jury. Sometimes, a favorable ruling on one of our motions will be just enough leverage to convince the prosecutor the offer a better deal. If not, we try the case. We make opening statements to the jury. We cross-examine the police officer and any other witnesses the state calls. We may present our own case, and we help you decide whether you wish to testify. After all of the witnesses have been called, we make closing arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the law, and then the jury deliberates until they reach a verdict.