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Testing the limits of South Carolina’s implied consent law

As we’ve covered before, South Carolina has an implied consent law on the books, much like other states. In short, this means that anyone who operates a motor vehicle within the state has implicitly agreed to submit to a breath test at the request of police officers. If a person is pulled over and a cop suspects that he or she has consumed alcohol, a subsequent breath test can be refused. However, this choice generally leads to an automatic administrative driver’s license suspension.

This law is seemingly cut and dry — and can put some drivers in a very difficult position. However, a case recently heard before another state’s top court raised questions about the applicability of implied consent and drunk driving laws.

In Minnesota, a woman lost her driver’s license as the result of drunk driving charges. The woman drove under the influence in order to escape her abusive husband who was posing an immediate threat to her safety. She challenged the decision to suspend her license all the way to the state supreme court, citing a necessity defense. Ultimately, the court did not find in favor of the woman. One of the items cited in the ruling is that the necessity defense applies to criminal law, not the administrative procedure that resulted in her license suspension.

Of course, this court ruling doesn’t directly apply to South Carolina, but it certainly raises important questions. There may be some situations in which a person feels so out of options that driving under the influence of alcohol is the only reasonable course of action.

Furthermore, given the complexities that can accompany individual breath test refusal or DUI cases, it may be important to seek legal advice. After all, a person may not know how state law applies to his or her situation.

Source: Star Tribune, “Minn. Supreme Court rejects DWI defense for fleeing abuse,” David Chanen, May 21, 2014

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