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Five Ways DUI Cases Can Begin in South Carolina

Five Ways DUI Cases Can Begin in South Carolina

This article discusses five the most common ways DUI cases begin in South Carolina. Depending on those circumstances, there can be different legal challenges that can be made. It's also important to consider that the evidence that the police would be able to gather can vary depending on how the case started. 

Traffic Stops

Almost every DUI arrest involves a police officer pulling over a driver for some sort of traffic violation.  These can vary from speeding to improper lane use, to not having an updated registration sticker on your car.  The important thing to remember is that a traffic stop is considered a seizure and implicates the fourth amendment.  Prior to conducting a traffic stop, the constitution requires police to gather enough evidence to establish “probable cause” that the motorist is committing a crime or a traffic violation.  This evidence may be the reading from a radar gun, witnessing a motorist cross over the center line, or running a vehicle’s plate to find out that the registration is suspended.  What probable cause is and how it relates to traffic stops is a subject that has been debated thousands of times in courts all across the country.  If the courts determine that a police officer initiated a traffic stop without probable cause, all evidence from that stop can be suppressed and any resulting charges will likely be dismissed. 

This means that you may have a defense to your DUI case if the officer can’t justify a legal reason to stop you. Police are not allowed to pull over a vehicle simply because it’s late at night, they observed it leave a bar or restaurant, or it’s located in a high-crime area. If the police can’t justify the reason for the stop, then your lawyer can make a motion to the court to dismiss the DUI charge. In South Carolina most all traffic stops resulting in a DUI arrest are required to be video-recording, so there should be video evidence to confirm or rebut any assertion by the officer of a traffic violation. We’ve seen DUI cases dismissed after the video failed to confirm swerving, failure to use a turn signal, or other states reasons that a traffic stop was initiated.  

Police Checkpoints

One of the few exceptions to the probable cause requirement are DUI checkpoints.  A DUI checkpoint is a very robust operation whereby several police officers are stopping the flow of traffic at a certain point, usually with the assistance of orange cones and portable traffic control devices.  These are usually set up during the early morning hours or during holiday weekends such as New Year’s Eve, when impaired driving is more common.  A driver going through the checkpoint is usually asked to present his driver’s license and insurance information and the police officer may ask a few questions to determine if further investigation is needed.  While you do have to comply with the officer’s request to show your driver’s license, you are not required to answer any of the officer’s questions about where you’re going or how much you had to drink. 

Even though DUI checkpoints are not subject to the probable cause requirement to stop a motorist, they are subject to other standards that must be adhered to in order to make the stop and resulting arrest valid.  For instance, prior to conducting a DUI checkpoint, the police must publish information about the checkpoint, such as time, location and purpose of the checkpoint. 

South Carolina courts have dismissed DUI cases when checkpoints were not properly operated. Additionally, when a DUI arrest is made from a checkpoint there may not be any evidence of impaired driving. In many DUI cases the officer follows the car and observes the driving behavior before making the traffic stop. In a checkpoint case there was no such opportunity. This removes what can be an important piece of evidence that the officer has – actual evidence of impaired driving.

Once a police officer makes contact with a driver, that officer may attempt to conduct a DUI investigation.  A DUI investigation usually begins with a series of questions where the police officer tries to get the driver to admit to the consumption of alcohol or that the driver was recently at a venue where alcohol is served.  These questions usually include, “Where are you coming from”, “Where are you going”, “How much have you had to drink tonight”.  The officer is also trained to look for other indicators of impairment, such as slurred speech, bloodshot glassy eyes, the odor of alcohol and a driver’s dexterity when handing over requested documents such as driver’s license or insurance card.  Using a totality of the circumstances based on all the information the officer has when making contact with a driver, the officer may ask the driver to step out of the car and perform a series of standardized field sobriety test.  Again, the 4th amendment to the US constitution is implicated here and the officer may only ask a driver to perform these tests if he has enough evidence to establish “reasonable suspicion” that the driver is impaired by alcohol. 

Other Common Situations

Beyond traffic stops and checkpoints there are other common situations that result in a DUI arrest. These include:

Occupied Vehicle DUI’s – Many times people are arrested for DUI when they are found just sitting inside their vehicle. This includes situations where people are “sleeping it off”, and not actually driving. South Carolina law requires that there be evidence of actual driving while impaired. Simply being impaired and sitting in the driver’s seat of a non-moving vehicle isn’t enough.

‘Made it Home” DUI’s – Sometimes DUI arrests are made by police after coming to the driver’s home. This includes situations where there was an accident, or someone complained of unsafe driving, and their tag number was provided to police. Police may show up even hours after someone has arrived home. Although you’re not required to open the door to talk to the police if you do you may find yourself being questioned and then ultimately arrested for DUI.

DUI’s after accidents – DUI arrests frequently happen after traffic accidents. These are typically the most serious type of DUI case. Even if the accident did not result in anyone being injured, the court will still consider anyone else involved to be a “victim.” Everyone charged with DUI after an accident with another vehicle needs to speak to an attorney before going to court or talking to any insurance company.


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