DUI or DUAC – What’s the Difference?

DUI, or “driving under the influence,” is a serious misdemeanor offense in South Carolina.  To prove a DUI, the state must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • the accused was operating a motor vehicle
  • under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substance, or both, AND
  • the accused’s “faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired” (the accused was unable to operate a car safely)

DUAC, or “driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration,” is also a serious misdemeanor offense with one critical difference. The State does not have to show “unsafe driving.” Rather, you are guilty of this charge if your BAC level is 0.08% or higher.

Many lawyers who do not handle DUI cases regularly and many individuals misunderstand the nature of the DUAC charge. It is NOT a lesser or reduced form of DUI. In fact, the legislature passed this law to actually make it easier for the State to prove you guilty of “drunk driving.” Only the BAC level is at issue. Here, a skilled DUI defense lawyer will challenge the stop, the field sobriety testing for probable cause to arrest, and the breath testing procedure itself. Of course, the most powerful weapon we have in DUI defense is the video statute (Section 56-5-2953). If we can show defects in the video evidence, the BAC level becomes moot.

In South Carolina there is a legal presumption that an individual is unable to drive safely if their blood alcohol content is 0.08% or above.  The State can still arrest and prosecute someone even if their blood alcohol level is below 0.08%. However, to prevail at trial, it must be shown that the person’s faculties were “materially and appreciably impaired” making them unsafe to operate a vehicle. In this scenario, a DUAC would not be applicable, and the person could only be charged with a DUI.

One last distinction about DUI and DUAC. Both charges are criminal and have the exact same penalties, including fines, community service or possible jail time, ADSAP, and SR-22 insurance for 3 years, and loss of license or driving privileges (if you live in another jurisdiction). However, under certain circumstances, an initially charged DUI may be dismissed and the ticket can be rewritten for a DUAC. In this unique situation, the penalties remain the same with one critical difference. The DUAC would not result in a permanent criminal record. Instead, it would be registered on the person’s driving record. This important difference means the charge and conviction will eventually go away as opposed to a permanent criminal DUI record with no current provision for expungement. This option should only be considered if the DUI attorney determines the State has a strong case and it is in the client’s best interests.

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The criminal defense firm Reeves Aiken HIghtower & Burns LLP practices DUI law throughout South Carolina, including in the cities of Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Tega Cay, York, Columbia, Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and Beaufort.

Be Safe. Get Home.