South Carolina Looks at Tougher DUI Laws

Citing a “real problem” with existing state DUI laws, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford announced support for toughening the penalties for drinking and driving. Though he offered no specifics, at a recent news conference he said the state needed to “get serious about DUI in South Carolina.”

His statement was influenced by a newspaper investigation into South Carolina DUI sentencing that showed about 40% of all repeat offenders received reduced plea bargains. The number rose to 60% for offenders with three or more DUI arrests.

The answer may come in the form of legislation proposed by a South Carolina Department of Public Safety study group created to outline potential changes to DUI laws. That group advocates a tiered approach to drunk driving: the higher the blood-alcohol content, the more severe the penalty.

Similar legislation gained no traction during last year’s legislative session, though the legislator who introduced the 2005 bill, State Rep. Jim Harrison, said that a tiered penalty system is needed. “We hear so much about social drinkers not being the problem in this state, that it’s the heavy drinkers that cause most of the fatalities," he said. "I think this statute recognized that those with a high blood-alcohol content deserved stiffer penalties.”

Other legislative considerations include increasing fines, requiring alcohol abuse treatment for first-time offenders and dropping the requirement of reading Miranda rights to a DUI suspect prior to a field sobriety test. South Carolina is the only state that requires that latter action.

One of a study group members felt the tiered DUI penalty system would gain favor during the next session of the South Carolina Legislature and indicated plans to pre-file a bill soon.

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