South Carolina Felony DUI Defense is Necessary to Protect your Rights
A Felony DUI is an extremely serious offense. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be facing a substantial amount of time behind bars. Any accident while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can quickly result in Felony DUI charges against the impaired driver, regardless whether the accident was the fault of the impaired driver or not. A felony DUI charge results when a driver, driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both, is involved in an accident and, as a result of that accident, causes “great bodily injury” or death to a person, other than himself. The person harmed or killed could be a passenger in the driver’s car, a driver or passenger in another care, or a pedestrian.
The South Carolina Felony DUI Defense Attorneys at The Strom Law Firm, LLC Can Help with the Following:
- DUI Charges
- Bond Setting
- Court Appearances
- Plea Deals
- Negotiation of Charges
- Felony DUI Trial
Anything else surrounding or resulting from your Felony DUI Charges
If you are involved in a collision where an officer suspects you of Felony DUI, depending on the circumstances of the arrest, that officer may ask you to submit to field sobriety testing. Field sobriety tests are performed roadside during a traffic stop when an officer suspects you of driving under the influence. These tests provide “clues” of impairment. If you show a sufficient number of “clues” indicating impairment, you may be arrested and charged with DUI.
“I don’t understand why the officer arrested me—I passed all of his tests!”
Contrary to popular belief, the ability to walk in a straight line or stand on one foot without stumbling or falling over just won’t cut it when it comes to the standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) that law enforcement officers administer to drivers who are under suspicion of DUI.
Law enforcement officers use three standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) to detect impaired driving: (1) The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, (2) the Walk and Turn test, and (3) the One Leg Stand test. Officers are trained to look for specific “clues” of impairment during the administration of each of these tests. It is helpful to gain an understanding of how each test is administered and what the performance expectations are in each.
The HGN Test
What is HGN? Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus or “HGN” is an involuntary jerking of the eye as it gazes towards the side. This jerking becomes noticeable when a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol. As a person’s blood alcohol concentration rises, the eyes will begin to jerk sooner as they move from side to side.
How does the HGN test work? In administering this test, an officer asks the subject to follow a stimulus (usually the officer’s finger or a pen) as the officer moves the stimulus from side to side within her field of vision. The officer will instruct the subject not to move her head while following the stimulus with her eyes.
How is the HGN test scored? During this test, the officer looks for six distinct “clues” to determine whether or not the subject is impaired. First, the officer will check the subject’s eyes for smooth pursuit—does the subject’s eye move from side to side in a smooth or jerky motion? An impaired person will demonstrate a lack of smooth pursuit as she moves her eyes from side to side. Second, the officer will check for “distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation.” A person has distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation when her eye jerks distinctly when it moves to one side as far as possible and is kept at that position for several seconds. Third, the officer will check for the “onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees.” If a person’s eye begins to jerk prior to a 45 degree angle as it moves to the side, she has the onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees. The officer will test for these three clues in each eye, for a total of six possible clues. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that research shows that if four or more clues are evident, it is likely that the subject’s blood alcohol concentration is above a .10.
The Walk and Turn Test (WAT)
How does the Walk and Turn test work?
This test has two stages: the instructional stage and the walking stage. During the instructional stage, the subject is asked to stand with her feet in a heel-to-toe position and keep her arms at her sides while listening to the officer’s instructions. The officer asks the subject to do this so that her attention will be divided between the balancing task (maintaining the position described above) and the information processing task (listening to and remembering the officer’s instructions). While the subject is standing heel-to-toe, with her left foot on the line and her right foot on the line in front of her left foot with the heel of her right foot against the toe of her left foot, and with her arms at her sides, the officer will instruct her to not begin the test until she is told to do so. He will ask her if she understands. The officer will instruct the subject to take 9 heel-to-toe steps on an imaginary line. The officer will demonstrate proper steps. The officer instructs the subject to turn in a very specific way—by keeping her front foot on the line, and turning by taking a series of small steps with the other foot. The officer will demonstrate this turn. The officer instructs the subject to begin, and reminds her to keep her hands at her sides, count her steps out loud, look at her feet while counting, not raise her arms up from her sides, and not stop once she begins. The officer will then instruct the subject to begin and count her first step from the heel-to-toe position as “one.” The subject’s performance is the walking stage.
How is the WAT test scored? Like in the HGN test discussed above, the officer is looking for distinct “clues” of impairment. The WAT test has eight distinct clues. First, the officer will look to see if the subject is able to keep balance while listening to the instructions. If the subject cannot maintain the heel-to-toe position during the instruction stage, this is a “clue.” Second, the officer will look to see if the subject begins the test before the instructions are finished. If the subject begins before being told to do so, this is a “clue.” Third, the officer will look to see if the subject stops while she is walking. If the person stops for several seconds during the test, this is a “clue.” Fourth, the officer will look to see if the subject fails to touch her heel to her toe with each step. If the subject leaves more than one-half inch between her heel and her toe on any step, this is a “clue.” Fifth, the officer will look to see if the subject steps off of the imaginary line upon which she is walking. If she steps so that one of her feet is entirely off of the line, this is a “clue.” Sixth, the officer will look to see if the subject is using her arms to balance while walking. If she raises one or both of her arms more than 6 inches from her side while walking, this is a “clue.” Seventh, the officer will look to see if the subject turns improperly. As mentioned above, a proper turn is quite unnatural and somewhat complicated—the subject must leave her front foot on the line while using her back foot to take a series of small steps to turn. If she pivots or spins around, this is a “clue.” Finally, the officer will look to see if the subject takes an incorrect number of steps. If she takes fewer or more than nine steps, this is a “clue.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that research shows that if just two or more clues are evident, or the subject fails to complete this test, it is likely that the subject’s blood alcohol concentration is above a .10.
The One Leg Stand test (OLS)
How does the One Leg Stand test work?
When administering this test, the officer will instruct the subject to stand with her feet together and her arms down at her sides. The officer will then demonstrate the correct position. The officer will instruct the subject not to start the test until he tells her to do so. The officer will ask the subject if she understands the instructions thus far. The officer will then proceed to verbally explain the test requirements while also giving a physical demonstration. The officer will instruct the subject that when he tells her to begin, she should raise one leg (it does not matter which leg) until her foot is 6 inches above the ground when raised parallel. He will instruct the subject to keep her arms straight and her hands at her sides while counting out loud in the following manner: “one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three…” The officer will instruct the subject to keep her eyes on her raised foot during this test. The test typically lasts for 30 seconds.
How is the One Leg Stand test scored?
Like in the other two standardized tests, the officer is looking for distinct “clues” of impairment. The OLS test has four total clues. First, the officer will look to see if the subject sways while balancing. Swaying is a “clue” of impairment. Second, the officer will look to see if the subject uses her arms for balance while performing this test. Using one’s arms for balance constitutes a “clue” of impairment. Third, the officer will look to see if the subject is able to keep one foot off the ground without hopping on the other foot in an attempt to maintain balance. Hopping while performing the test is considered a “clue.” Finally, the officer will look to see if the subject is able to maintain the one-leg stand position without putting the other foot down one or more times during a 30 second count. If the subject puts her foot down during the test it is considered a “clue.” If two or more clues are present, or the subject fails to complete the test, the NHTSA states that there “is a good chance the [person’s] blood alcohol concentration is above .10.”
As you can see, it is not necessary for a person under suspicion of DUI to stumble or fall over while performing field sobriety tests. The clues demonstrated during the HGN test are involuntary. Many individuals who are arrested for DUI do not understand that just because they followed instructions by not moving their heads during this test does not mean that they performed well. Simply failing to keep position or pivoting while turning during the Walk and Turn test can trigger enough clues to cause the arresting officer to believe you are impaired. Putting your foot down or hopping during the One Leg Stand test can trigger the same suspicions.
The bottom line is that law enforcement officers are trained to detect very specific clues during the administration of these tests. These clues are not necessarily what the average citizen would consider evidence of impairment. Officers use these tests, together with their other observations about a person’s driving, appearance and behavior, to determine whether he or she should be arrested for DUI.
South Carolina Felony DUI Defense
In most states, including South Carolina, a DUI charge is a misdemeanor. A DUI becomes a Felony DUI when there is evidence of great bodily injury or death; evidence that the driver violated one or more traffic laws, and evidence that the acts or omissions of the driver were the proximate cause of the serious bodily injury or death of another.
In other words, a person can be arrested and charged with Felony DUI if the arresting officer concludes there is probable cause that the person was (1) driving; (2) under the influence of alcohol or drugs; (3) violated a traffic law; and (4) his or her driving and impairment was the proximate cause of the serious bodily injury or death of another.
What is “Great Bodily Injury?
The State of South Carolina defines “Great Bodily Injury” as bodily injury, which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious or permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. Therefore, if anyone experiences any of the above mentioned as a result of an accident, and one or more of the drivers involved is under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, or both, at the time of the accident, that driver may be charged with Felony DUI. Additionally, if any injured person dies from complications related to the accident (such as a coma) within three years of the DUI-related injury, the driver may be implicated in the death.
Consequences of Felony DUI in South Carolina
When a person is convicted of Felony DUI, whether it’s after a guilty plea or a trial, the judge must sentence that person according to the penalties provided in the Felony DUI statute (law).
When the South Carolina legislature drafted the felony DUI law and provided for certain punishments for conviction, it considered the seriousness of the offense. While all Felony DUI cases are serious, the level of severity can vary from case to case. A case involving a more serious injury, disfigurement or paralysis of a victim may merit a higher sentence than a case where the victim was seriously injured but is expected to recover. Likewise a case involving death carries the possibility of a higher sentence. When deciding an appropriate sentence within the range set by statute, the court will consider several factors such as the nature and circumstances of the offense, the impact the offense had on the victim and victim’s family, the person’s criminal history, any prior DUI charges or convictions, any efforts the person has made to rehabilitate himself, and any drug or alcohol treatment he or she has participated in.
What Are the Punishments for Felony DUI Where Great Bodily Injury Occurs?
Where great bodily injury occurs, a person convicted of Felony DUI can expect to receive a sentence of not less than thirty days and not more than fifteen years (which cannot be suspended, meaning a judge cannot put that person on probation in lieu of incarceration) and a fine between $5,000-$10,000. In addition to the fines and jail time, a person convicted of Felony DUI can also expect to have his or her driver’s license suspended for the period of incarceration plus three more years. He or she will also be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) on a vehicle before he or she can drive again.
What Are the Punishments for South Carolina Felony DUI Where Death Occurs?
A person who is convicted of Felony DUI where a death occurs, he or she can expect to receive a sentence of not less than one year and not more than twenty-five years (which also cannot be suspended to probation) and a fine between $10,000 – $25,000. A person who is convicted of Felony DUI involving death is not eligible for parole during his or her period of incarceration. In addition to the fines and jail time, a person convicted of Felony DUI can also expect to have his or her driver’s license suspended for the period of incarceration plus five more years. He or she will also be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) on a vehicle before he or she can drive again.
What Are the Punishments for Multiple Counts of Felony DUI in SC?
In cases where a person is charged with multiple counts of Felony DUI because he or she is accused of causing great bodily injury or death to more than one person, the court must sentence that person on each count. When imposing sentences on multiple counts of Felony DUI, a court can order that the sentence for each count run concurrently or consecutively. If the court orders the sentences to run concurrently, it means that all of the sentences may be served at the same time. If the court orders the sentences to be served consecutively, it means that the sentence on each count must be served one after the other. In other words, if a judge sentenced a person to 10 years on one count and 5 years on another count and ordered the sentences to run consecutively, the person would have to serve the ten year sentence before he or she could begin serving the five year sentence, for a total time served of fifteen years. On the other hand, if the judge sentenced that person to 10 years and 5 years to run concurrently, the person could serve both the ten year sentence and the five year sentence at the same time, for a total time served of ten years.
South Carolina Felony DUI Defense Attorneys Are Here to Help.
Because of the potentially life-changing consequences of a Felony DUI, it is important that you seek experienced counsel who understands the South Carolina Felony DUI laws. The attorneys at the Strom Law Firm, founded by former US Attorney for the District of South Carolina, Pete Strom, understand the Felony DUI laws. Our attorneys will fight to protect your rights, your life, and ultimately, your future.
If you or a loved one is facing Felony DUI charges, contact the Strom Law Firm today to schedule a free, confidential consultation by calling (803) 252-4800. We have experience guiding clients through this difficult situation, and we will fight to make sure you have a chance for a bright future.