South Carolina’s penal code includes a variety of crimes that relate to the possession or use of alcohol. These alcohol-related crimes are strict-liability offenses. They do not require proof that the accused intended to break the law. The act itself is enough to support a conviction. However, in many cases there are viable defenses.
These are the most commonly charged alcohol-related crimes in South Carolina:
- Operating under the influence — This means operating a motor vehicle while one’s faculties are impaired due to the effects of alcohol or drugs. An impairment conviction does not require proof according to an objective standard such as blood alcohol content (BAC). A police officer can charge an impairment based solely upon the driver’s conduct. However, BAC testing is often used. If a driver has a BAC of .08 or higher, there is a strong inference that he or she is legally impaired. Even a BAC of .05 is an indicator that the driver may be impaired. A first offense of operating under the influence may result in up to 30 days in jail and a $400 fine.
- Driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration — This crime entails an objective standard that does not require proof of actual impairment. Driving a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher is a misdemeanor. A first offense may result in up to 30 days in jail and a $400 fine.
- Felony driving under the influence — A driver commits a felony by operating under the influence and causing “great bodily injury” or killing someone. If a victim is severely injured, the driver faces 15 years in prison and a fine of $10,100. A driver who causes a death faces 25 years in prison and a fine of $25,100.
- Open container in a motor vehicle — Possessing an open container of beer or wine in the passenger compartment of a vehicle while on a public roadway is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.
- Transportation in a motor vehicle — Transporting liquor (distilled spirits) in the passenger compartment of a vehicle, if the container is open or the seal is broken, is a misdemeanor with potential penalties of 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.
- Public disorderly conduct — A “grossly intoxicated” person who acts in a belligerent or disruptive manner while in public can be charged with a misdemeanor carrying a possible 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.
Effective defenses to these alleged crimes depend on analysis of the facts. For example, a defendant may be able to disprove that driving under the influence was the direct cause of bodily injury or death. In addition, defects in the procedures police use to determine impairment can undermine the state’s proofs.
Jack B. Swerling is a highly experienced criminal defense attorney based in Columbia, South Carolina. He vigorously represents defendants against charges of alcohol-related crimes. Feel free to contact the office online or call 800-701-0599 for an initial consultation.