Felony DUI is that worst case scenario.
Driving under the influence is typically a misdemeanor offense. Any DUI is a serious charge because of the many consequences. But when a DUI is charged as a felony, the stakes are even higher, with the real possibility of prison time.
When does a DUI become a felony? When the event that drunk driving laws are meant to prevent actually occurs: someone’s injury or death. If you or a family member were involved in a bad car accident – with any hint of drugs or alcohol – stay off social media and talk to a lawyer immediately. It’s not “just a DUI.” This calls for serious criminal defense representation.
Felony DUI could mean years in prison
Under South Carolina statute (§56-5-2945), felony DUI is causing great bodily injury or death while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. For great bodily injury, a conviction carries a mandatory fine of $5,000 to $10,000, plus imprisonment for at least 30 days and as long as 15 years. If any person dies – at the scene or within three years – the punishment rises to mandatory fines of $10,000 to $25,000 and mandatory prison of 1 year up to 25 years.
A good defense lawyer can intervene with the prosecutor to possibly prevent felony DUI charges. In addition to being under the influence, the statute requires proof that the driver committed “any act forbidden by law” or “neglected any duty imposed by law.” This can refer to illegal passing, unsafe lane changes or other traffic violations, or negligence such as distracted driving. In other words, simply being intoxicated does not itself merit felony DUI charges. Did the allegedly drunk driver actually cause the crash? Perhaps the other driver caused or contributed to the accident by speeding, texting while driving, or running a stop sign. A thorough investigation is critical.
The law says a felony DUI conviction is not eligible for suspended sentence or probation – the mandatory minimum has to be imposed. Every effort must be made to prevent charges, get the case dismissed, get it reduced to a misdemeanor or to challenge the underlying allegation of driving under the influence. Greenville attorney Ryan L. Beasley is well-versed in both DUI law and felony criminal defense.