Here at Farnsworth Law Offices, we pride ourselves on experience and expertise in ALL types of criminal law. We’re ready to take on any challenge. However, through conversations over many a dinner table (and maybe a bar or two), we’ve found that folks have the most questions about one particular crime: the DUI. To be sure, DUI is one of the most ubiquitous crimes, and often many “normal” citizens find themselves accused of drinking and driving. DUI is common, but it is not simple. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to try to answer the question that we get asked more than any other: “What do I do if I’m pulled over for DUI?”
Part I – Zero Tolerance?
Newsflash: having a drink and then driving is NOT against the law in South Carolina. There is no such thing as zero tolerance for alcohol and driving. If you want to be on the safe side, you should probably think about not driving after you’ve had anything to drink. Police officers and prosecutors are under tremendous political pressure to be tough on DUI, and nobody wants to be hassled and spend a night in jail for something they didn’t do. There is, however, a difference between “drinking and driving” and DUI, so let’s talk about what DUI really means.
Technically speaking, it is against the law to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consequently, a DUI investigation is geared to prove that you are being affected by the substance, not simply that you have ingested a substance. This is an important point to keep in mind as we move through the stages of a DUI stop. If the officer just wanted to prove you drank and drove, he could do so with straightforward evidence such as a picture of you leaving a bar or a receipt from a liquor store or the simple assertion that you smelled like alcohol (more on this one later). The only way for a police officer to prove that you are under the influence is by directly observing your actions! One way to successfully avoid a DUI conviction is to not give him that chance.
Sidenote: Throughout this series we will be talking mostly about alcohol, but remember that drugs, whether prescribed or recreational, can be the basis for a DUI arrest as well. If the prescription bottle says not to drive, don’t do it; If you’re stoned, just order pizza instead. That being said, all of the wisdom that follows applies to drugs as well as alcohol.
Next week: The Traffic Stop…..