Getting arrested on suspicion of drinking and driving in South Carolina is a serious matter. But depending on which county you were driving in before the officer arrested you, your case could be highly likely to settle with a lesser charge on your record.
According to a study reported in the Hilton Head Island Packet, a survey of South Carolina’s seven counties found that first-time DUI charges do not result in a conviction for DUI most of the time. For example, here in Charleston County, about 54 percent of people facing a DUI charge for the first time did not end up getting convicted of that crime. Instead, the charges are either dismissed entirely, or the defendant and prosecutor’s office agree to a plea bargain. In exchange for a guilty plea, the prosecution agrees to reduce the charge, typically reckless driving.
A quirk in South Carolina criminal procedure
Plea bargains are not unusual in criminal proceedings. Prosecutors often will accept a guilty plea on reduced charges rather than take their chances on a trial. But the low rate of conviction on DUI charges is noteworthy. One reason for this is that in many South Carolina counties, DUI trials are not prosecuted by attorneys. Instead, the job falls to the arresting police officer.
Police as prosecutors?
South Carolina is one of just two states where police officers serve as “prosecutors” in DUI trials. Most officers are reluctant to handle this responsibility, so it looks like they are especially eager to reach a plea deal. The study found that among the DUI cases it surveyed, cases handled by prosecutors ended in a conviction for DUI about 43 percent of the time. Cases where an officer was the “prosecutor” ended in a DUI conviction in just 13 percent of cases.
Don’t be misled by these statistics. Even without a prior record, DUI charges can result in a driver’s license suspension and a big fine. But the help of a DUI defense attorney can greatly improve your chances of a dismissal or reasonable plea bargain.