People convicted of driving under the influence in South Carolina face stiff penalties, but if someone was injured or killed in an alleged DUI accident, the status of the charge becomes a felony and the possible penalties increase significantly.
In late 2012, a man from Lexington County was involved in an interstate accident that took the life of a maintenance worker just outside of Columbia. The driver, who had previous DUI convictions on his record, recently pleaded guilty to felony DUI.
The man was accused of hit-and-run involving a death and felony DUI involving a death. He was facing a maximum prison sentence of 25 years, but the judge decided instead on a 17-year sentence. Under South Carolina law, the man will have to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence before he can be released.
Prosecutors could not point to any alcohol in the defendant's system at the time of the crash, but prescription drugs were a factor.
According to records in Lexington County, the man was also arrested for DUI two weeks prior to the fatal accident. That was the second time the man had been charged with driving under the influence. His first arrest for DUI was in 2008. He was convicted on that charge, and he was also convicted of an open-container violation in 1998.
The previous convictions factored into the sentencing, according to the judge.
Clearly, the stakes are high in such cases. But no matter how serious the allegations, every person accused of a crime has the right to defend against the charge. It is the aim of a strong criminal defense to ensure that overcharging doesn't occur and that flaws in police work don't lead to a conviction.
Source: heraldonline.com, "Repeat DUI offender sentenced to 17 years in death," John Monk, Oct. 3, 2013