For anyone who has been charged with driving under the influence, we know that charge alone is seriou. But, a felony DUI charge is even more so. Not only has the person charged allegedly caused serious harm or the death of another, but they also face much steeper penalties, including possible mandatory prison time.
What is Felony DUI?
A felony DUI charge in South Carolina requires that the person charged have:
- Operated a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol or both, and
- Did something else against the law, whether traffic law or duties imposed by the court, for example, failed to maintain lane or acted negligently, and
- Proximately causes great bodily injury or death to a person other than himself, including passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists
The first element sounds like DUI, but unlike DUI, the statute does not mention that the drugs or alcohol must impair the ability of the driver to drive safely.
The second element allows individuals who are under the influence, but do nothing wrong, to escape a serious felony DUI charge. For example, a driver who was under the influence, who otherwise was following the law, and killed a driver who was turned left in front of him, probably would be able to escape a Felony DUI charge. Why? They breached no legal duty. The other driver was entirely at fault.
The third element contains two problems: Proximate causation and “great bodily injury.” What in the world do either of those phrases mean?
Proximate causation basically means legal causation, not factual causation, but causation that will be recognized by law for a certain purpose. Here, you can imagine that
- if one driver breached a legal duty like crossing the white line on a two lane road, and
- that action spooked a driver in the oncoming lane, and
- that driver hit a tree and died,
the driver crossing the white line could have actually caused the death, but even if that person was under the influence, we don’t want to charge them with felony DUI. However, if someone dies of complications within 3 years of a “great bodily injury” as defined below, the death may meet proximate causation.
Great bodily injury for the purpose of felony DUI is an injury that “creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” SC Code § 56-5-2945.
The penalties for conviction of a felony DUI depend on whether there was a great bodily injury or a death.
For causing great bodily injury:
- 30 days to 15 years mandatory imprisonment, in state or federal prison, not local jail,
- $5,000 to $10,100 mandatory fine,
- driver’s license is suspended for the term of imprisonment plus three years.
For causing death:
- 1 year to 25 years mandatory imprisonment, in state or federal prison, not local jail,
- $10,100 to $25,100 mandatory fine, and
- driver’s license is suspended for the term of imprisonment plus five years.
As you can see judges have very little latitude in felony DUI for mercy.
Another small caveat: the local prosecutor can choose to charge someone who can otherwise be charged with felony DUI with involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.
Serious Attorneys for a Serious Charge
If you have been charged with felony DUI, contact the attorneys at Reeves, Aiken & Hightower. Browse our website, and compare our credentials with those of attorneys at any other firm. Then, call us at 877-374-5999 or contact us at this link for a private consultation.
If you want to wade through the statute yourself, it is reproduced below:
SECTION 56-5-2945. Offense of felony driving under the influence; penalties; “great bodily injury” defined.
(A) A person who, while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the combination of alcohol and drugs, drives a motor vehicle and when driving a motor vehicle does any act forbidden by law or neglects any duty imposed by law in the driving of the motor vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes great bodily injury or death to a person other than himself, is guilty of the offense of felony driving under the influence and, upon conviction, must be punished:
(1) by a mandatory fine of not less than five thousand one hundred dollars nor more than ten thousand one hundred dollars and mandatory imprisonment for not less than thirty days nor more than fifteen years when great bodily injury results;
(2) by a mandatory fine of not less than ten thousand one hundred dollars nor more than twenty-five thousand one hundred dollars and mandatory imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than twenty-five years when death results.
A part of the mandatory sentences required to be imposed by this section must not be suspended, and probation must not be granted for any portion.
(B) As used in this section, “great bodily injury” means bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.
The Department of Motor Vehicles must suspend the driver’s license of a person who is convicted or who receives sentence upon a plea of guilty or nolo contendere pursuant to this section for a period to include a period of incarceration plus three years for a conviction of Section 56-5-2945 when “great bodily injury” occurs and five years when a death occurs. This period of incarceration shall not include any portion of a suspended sentence such as probation, parole, supervised furlough, or community supervision. For suspension purposes of this section, convictions arising out of a single incident shall run concurrently.
(C) One hundred dollars of each fine imposed pursuant to this section must be placed by the Comptroller General into a special restricted account to be used by the Department of Public Safety for the Highway Patrol.
HISTORY: 1983 Act No. 114 Section 4; 1987 Act No. 58 Section 1; 1987 Act No. 82 Section 1; 1993 Act No. 181, Section 1419; 1993 Act No. 184 Section 252; 2003 Act No. 61, Section 17; 2008 Act No. 201, Section 8, eff February 10, 2009.