DUI carries heavy penalties in Horry County

akelley@thesunnews.comDecember 31, 2012 

— The S.C. Highway Patrol’s Sober or Slammer campaign ends Tuesday and already this year, troopers across the state have made more than 500 DUI related arrests in the campaign, which runs from mid December to Jan. 1 annually.

The 2011 campaign finished with more than 800 DUI arrests.

The goal of Sober or Slammer is to prevent traffic fatalities, particularly those involving an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the highway patrol. In 2011, seven people died on state roads in the 78-hours around New Year’s Eve, which fell on a Saturday.

More than 100 people have died on state roads during the Sober or Slammer period in the last three years though it’s not clear how many of the deaths were related to impaired drivers – 30 deaths last year, 53 in 2010 and 41 in 2010.

In 2010, South Carolina was tied at No. 1 for the most fatalities involving an impaired driver. There was an improvement last year when the state dropped to No. 7, but Leroy Smith, Director of the S.C. Department of Public Safety, said overall numbers aren’t improving.

At last count on Sunday, state troopers reported a total of 830 fatalities on state roads, compared to 827 in 2011. Information on how many of those were related to impaired driving was not available Monday.

With extra resources for enforcement on New Year’s Eve, including trooper’s who usually work at desks, the total number of DUI arrests for the year could spike before the campaign ends.

Those arrests carry big penalties, said Manuela Clayton, assistant solicitor with the 15th Judicial Circuit, who broke down the penalties related to a first offense DUI arrest.

It all starts with whether a breath sample is given, she said. A refusal to give a sample means an automatic six-month license suspension and fines up to $997 for convictions, Clayton said.

“A lot of people actually refuse the breath sample,” she said. “It just depends how important it is for them to drive.”

The difference, Clayton thinks, is based on the fine print when licenses are issued.

“When you sign to get your license, there’s a statement that says if you were pulled over for a DUI, you would give a breath sample,” she said.

Other penalties depend on how high the blood alcohol content. The legal limit is 0.08.

Breath samples below 0.15 do not result in license suspensions, but over 0.15 means a 30 day suspension.

A conviction of first offense DUI, whether by guilty plea or a trial, can result in 30 to 90 days imprisonment and fines.

Fines depend on the breath sample and range between $1,022 and $2,267. Clayton said those are just court fees and do not include the cost of an attorney.

Additionally, anyone convicted of a DUI is required to carry SR-22 insurance for three years, whether they are driving or not.

Subsequent offenses result in mandatory jail time and fines.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.

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