Driving under the influence of drugs is a crime in South Carolina, and you can face criminal charges if you are caught doing so. The drugs can be those which are prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act, such as marijuana or illegal opioids. Driving under prescription drugs may also be a criminal offense even though the prescriptions are legal. For example, some prescription drugs cause fatigue or dizziness, which can cause a driver to drive while impaired.
Can you be arrested for suspected drugged driving?
Yes, you can. The police can pull you over if they have any reason to believe you were driving while impaired. For example, they can pull you over if you were speeding, driving too slowly, swerving in and out of traffic lanes, running through red lights, or just not driving properly for the traffic conditions and weather conditions when you are stopped.
Remember that law enforcement doesn’t need to know if a driver is high; the officer only has to suspect that the driver was under the influence. This distinction is important because traditional method of determining sobriety may not work for drugged driving.
What are the penalties for a drugged driving charge in South Carolina?
The South Carolina Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways imposes the following minimum penalties for both driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol:
- A first offense. A defendant who is convicted, pleads guilty, or pleads nolo contendere (no contest) will be sentenced to a minimum of 48 hours and no more than 30 days. The defendant will also be fined $400. Instead of the minimum sentence, the criminal sentencing judge may impose a 48-hour public service requirement. The 48 hours (jail or public service) should be served at a time that doesn’t interfere with the defendant’s regular employment. A defendant does have the option of choosing jail instead of public service.
- A second offense. The fine for a second offense of driving under the influence of drugs in South Carolina is a minimum of $2,100 and a maximum of $5,100. The defendant must serve at least 5 days and not more than 1 year. The fine cannot be suspended below $1,100.
- A third offense. The fine for a third offense of driving under the influence of drugs in South Carolina is between $3,800 and $6,300. The sentence will be between 60 days and three years.
- A fourth offense. The defendant will be sentenced to at least one year and not more than five years.
The minimum sentence for subsequent offenses is mandatory. Community service is not an option for subsequent offenses. The sentencing judge can, however, provide that “the sentence be served upon terms and conditions as he considers proper including, but not limited to, weekend service or nighttime service in any fashion he considers necessary.”
Testing for drugged driving is different than for typical DUIs
Testing for drugged driving isn’t as clear as testing for driving under the influence of alcohol. For both drugs and alcohol, the police may ask you to take field sobriety tests. Some drug testing methods require that you provide a blood or urine sample. You may be asked to provide a mouth swab which tests for the presence of certain drugs. The tests generally can determine what drug is in your blood/urine/mouth swab at the time of the test. Blood and urine tests should be able to determine the amount of the drugs in your system.
Generally, the police must still provide evidence that the drugs caused you to drive while impaired. Unlike breath tests, there is no precise drug limit that determines if you were driving under the influence of a particular drug.
What you should know about implied consent and the right to refusal
South Carolina does provide that anyone who drives in the state gives their implied consent to have their blood, urine, or breath tested to determine if any alcohol or drugs are present in the defendant and the amount of those substances. If you violate the informed consent law (Section 56-5-2950 and 56-5-2951), your license can be suspended for six months. Your license can be suspended for a longer time if, within the prior 10 years, you have another suspension or conviction that is alcohol or drug related – and if you are 21 or older.
Before administering the tests or obtaining a sample, law enforcement should activate “the video recording equipment and prior to the commencement of the testing procedure, the person [should be given] a written copy of and verbally informed that:”
- The person isn’t required to give the sample or take the test – but that the failure to do so may result in a loss of driving privileges for at least six months – and that the refusal can be used against him in court.
- The person does have “the right to have a qualified person of his own choosing conduct additional independent tests at his expense”
- The person can ask for an administrative hearing within 30 days from the date the notice of suspension is issued
- If the suspension is upheld or the person doesn’t ask for an administrative hearing, that the drive must “enroll in an Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program.”
Whether the substance is alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs, the driver’s ability to drive a motor vehicle must be materially and appreciably impaired. Generally, field sobriety and breath tests are used to determine if a driver was intoxicated while blood and urine tests are used to determine if a driver was under the influence of narcotics.
However, you have the right to refuse roadside breath and blood tests, and should do so if prompted by law enforcement to take them. This will likely trigger an automatic loss of license by the Department of Motor Vehicles, but it will also deprive the state from valuable evidence that it can use against you.
Holland Law LLC provides skilled criminal defense for many different types of criminal offenses including driving under the influence of drugs or narcotics. If you’ve been charged with any crime while driving your car, call us at 803-219-2630, or reach out through our contact page. We serve clients in York, Lancaster, and Chester Counties. Call today to schedule a consultation in our Fort Mill office on Gold Hill Road, or in our Rock Hill office on Oakland Avenue.
Tom Holland previously served as the General Counsel for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, the City Solicitor for the City of Lancaster, and as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Sixth Circuit Solicitor’s Office. He is a single father, and through his own divorce gained valuable insight he now uses to provide Fort Mill and Rock Hill, SC families with the best representation. Learn more about Tom Holland.