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Can you be charged with DUI and still be sober?

Can you be charged with DUI and still be sober?

Did you know that you can be charged with DUI, even though you are sober? No alcohol. No drugs. But still be arrested for impaired driving? Many times people are charged with DUI when they’ve had some alcohol or taken some drug, but there is still a question of whether or not they are legally impaired. Here, I’m talking about situations where someone has nothing in their system but is still arrested.

This isn’t a quirk in the law. These situations arise when police officers flat-out make a mistake and assume someone is impaired by alcohol or drugs when they aren’t.

We’ve been involved in represented several clients who have been unfairly charged with DUI in these circumstances. A recurring theme have been when the police officer has received some training in recognizing drug impairment in motorists but then misapplies that knowledge.

Examples of situations that can result in a sober DUI arrest include:

  • A sleep deprived driver exhibiting signs of exhaustion
  • A medical condition affecting balance, or causing tremors
  • A mental health condition causing confusion or disorientation
  • A diabetic whose mouth gives off an odor similar to alcohol
  • A foreigner who does not speak the English language

Often times the sober driver will voluntarily submit to a breath test at the police station which will confirm no alcohol. They are then surprised to learn that the police officer then requests that they provide a urine or blood test, and that no matter what they are still going to be booked into the jail.

Now they are given a court date, facing a DUI, and aren’t sure what’s going to happen. The unfortunate reality is that because South Carolina law allows for a DUI conviction to be based solely on “material and appreciable impairment”, there is no requirement that any drug or alcohol test result guarantees the dismissal of a charge.

Fortunately, there law provides legal protections to those falsely and unfairly accused of DUI that can help avoid a conviction. The first, and most important thing, is to make sure that your rights to fully contest your charge are protected. Everyone charged with DUI, even if they were 100% sober and know that they are “not guilty”, should consult with a lawyer before going to their initial court date.

If you did submit to a blood or urine test you should also know that those results are frequently not made available prior to the initial court date. So if you are anticipating that those tests will help you, they usually aren’t available (initial court dates are usually in just a few weeks, SLED drug testing can take several months).


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