Honest Criminal Defense Law Answers From Your South Carolina Lawyer
When you’re faced with a major life event, you’re filled with questions and uncertainty. Get the straight answers you’re looking for from a South Carolina attorney.
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I was just charged with driving while under suspension, first offense. I did not even know my license was suspended. The fine does not seem to be much. Should I just plead guilty and move on?
Under almost all circumstances I advise against simply pleading guilty or paying the fine on a driving while under suspension (DUS) first offense charge. At the very least, if you have been charged with this crime you should speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer to learn what actions would be in your best interest.
The law in South Carolina says that a person who drives a motor vehicle on any public road of this state while his license to drive is canceled, suspended, or revoked is guilty of driving under suspension. For a first offense the person is to be fined $300 (and court costs which more than doubles the fine), or jail for up to 30 days, or both. However, if the driver’s license had been suspended for a DUI conviction, then the penalties become $300 plus costs, or a period of 10 to 30 days in jail.
While there are exceptions, it’s typical that a person convicted of DUS first offense can avoid any jail time if he has the ability to pay the fine and court costs.
The Second Line of Penalties: Extended License Suspension
I cannot count how many times I have heard—after the fact—a variation of the following, “The officer told me if I plead guilty he would recommend the minimum fine and no jail time. I just thought it would be easier to get it over with because it would be cheaper than hiring a lawyer.”
But is it really cheaper? Maybe not. In addition to the criminal penalties, there are also civil penalties, including a longer suspension of your driver’s license. The period of time for which a person’s driver’s license is suspended upon conviction depends on the original reason for his license suspension. Consider these examples:
- If your license had been suspended for failure to pay a no seat belt fine, and if simply paying the seat belt fine and the reinstatement fee at the DMV would have allowed you to get your license back in the first place, the additional suspension is for only 30 days.
- If your suspension was for some specific period, the extended license suspension upon conviction of DUS will be for a similar time period. For instance, if your license was suspended for six months due to a DUI first conviction, then you would incur an additional six months’ license suspension if convicted of DUS first offense.
- In cases where there is not a defined period of suspension, the suspension may be extended for an additional three months.
After you have fulfilled the criminal penalties and after your license suspension period, you may think everything is reset to normal. It isn’t. In almost all situations, before you can get your license back you are required to get SR-22 insurance. Folks sometimes call this drunk driving insurance. It is more expensive insurance for “risky drivers,” and it costs more money than a regular liability policy. You will have to carry this insurance for three years, and the costs can be in the thousands of dollars. Also, you will have to pay reinstatement fees to the DMV before you are given your license back.
You Can Fight DUS Charges in South Carolina
Remember, just because you have been charged with DUS first offense does not mean that you will necessarily be convicted. You are entitled to a trial by judge or jury. Before you can be convicted, the state (usually the arresting officer) must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
One requirement is that the state must offer as proof a certified copy of your driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles. An additional requirement is that the prosecuting officer must demonstrate that you actually received notice from the DMV that your license was in fact suspended.
It is important to treat a DUS first offense seriously, because the penalties you potentially face are so severe. If you are like most folks, you depend on a car to get you from point A to point B. Without a car, it is difficult to participate in other functions of life, such as employment, education, getting children to and from school, obtaining groceries, and many other daily activities.
All too often, someone whose license is suspended because of a DUS conviction makes the decision to drive anyway, leading to another arrest. Each repeat arrest is treated more harshly, and it starts a downward spiral that can result in felony charges and convictions, along with an indefinite or permanent revocation of your right to driver in South Carolina—or any other state.
If you have been charged with driving under suspension first offense, or any other driving-related charge, and would like to discuss it with the criminal defense lawyers at Holland & Usry, P.A., please do not hesitate to contact our office at 864.582.0416 or toll-free at 888.230.1841. You may have certain defenses, and true cost of a DUS conviction is much more than a fine.
Will I have to testify in my criminal trial?
The honest answer: Maybe. In our years defending criminal cases at Holland and Usry, we’ve found few things generate more fear in an accused person than taking the stand in their own defense. We’ll address those emotions in a minute. But first, set them aside so you can focus on what guides our decision. This is not a lofty notion but three bedrock FACTS:
- To convict you, the government must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- The accused always has the right to remain silent.
- The jury cannot hold your silence against you. The judge must instruct the jury they cannot even discuss your not taking the stand in their deliberations.
Because it’s all up to the government to prove your guilt, we’re not going to do their work for them. If your testimony would remove all doubt of your guilt, you’re not testifying. But even if you’re innocent, you still might not take the stand.
Some Good Reasons to Not Testify Even If You’re Innocent:
The classic example is a DUI: if there is a video of you, the way you look on the video already establishes whether you were impaired. By the way, if you’re worried about how you did on those field sobriety tests, check out our free report on DUI cases, which has a chapter that should relieve your anxiety about that.
It hurts our strategy.
If we put up any evidence, we lose the last closing argument. That means the State gets an extra shot to talk to the jury about everything they think is wrong with our defense. The last voice in the jury’s ears will be the prosecutor who wants to condemn you. Sometimes it’s just better for them to hear what we have to say last.
Your emotions overwhelm the necessity of your testimony.
Unlike anyone else in the courtroom, you’re the only one whose life and reputation is at stake. On the stand, you might feel like the verdict is in your hands alone. This can be overwhelming, and you’re justified feeling afraid and nervous. Fear and nerves create mistakes—you need only look at the world of sports where many games are decided on missed field goals, free throws, or short putts. And this is no game.
When You Do Testify: the Antidote for Fear and Nerves.
If your testimony is necessary, we counter your fear and nerves with the best antidote: preparation. This does not mean memorizing speeches or dishonestly twisting facts hoping to fool the jury. On the stand, your best friend is honesty, even admitting things that hurt you a little bit. Remember if your testimony hurts a lot, you’re not doing it. We work with our clients to develop their testimony so you’ll feel prepared when you take the stand to defend yourself. You’ll know:
- The facts of your case so you don’t get tripped up.
- Honest, meaningful explanations for things that hurt you. Sometimes admitting dumb mistakes—like prior convictions—and taking responsibility for them helps the jury understand your innocence in this case. It also takes a lot of gas out of the prosecutor’s cross-examination.
- How to respond patiently, respectfully, and honestly even when you’re getting grilled. Our goal is to keep you calm on the stand so the jury views you as a reasonable person. You might get a little seared by a very talented prosecutor, but not burned to a crisp.
- How to use cross-examination as a way to repeat your defense. While questions are generally designed to be answered yes or no, you can explain in a way that continues to help your case: “Yes, I was there when the car got stolen, but I never touched it and the only fingerprints officers found were someone else’s.”
If you’ve been charged with a crime and want to discuss your options, including whether you’ll have to testify, do contact us by phone at 864.582.0416 or toll-free at 888.230.1841, email, or start a live chat and we’ll get in touch with you.
After a heated argument with my wife, I was suddenly charged with domestic violence in Spartanburg. I didn’t hurt her and don’t think that this is a fair charge. Now I’m worried. What punishments do I face?
South Carolina criminal domestic violence charges vary greatly depending on the severity of the situation. You may have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony based on the circumstances. This can have a major impact on the range of potential punishments you face.
Working with a Spartanburg domestic violence attorney may be able to help you avoid a conviction. You may also be able to avoid jail time or a prison sentence and instead enter into a treatment or counseling program.
If you are found guilty, you may face a variety of punishments depending on the severity of the domestic violence charge.
Criminal Domestic Violence, Third Degree. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-20.) If this is your first domestic violence offense in Spartanburg, it will usually be treated as a misdemeanor. The punishment for this is a fine of $1,000 to $2,500 or as many as 90 days in jail, or both. All or some of the sentence might be suspended if you are ordered to attend treatment, called batterer’s treatment or anger management.
Criminal Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-65.) This charge is a felony carrying up to twenty years in prison.
Convictions for these crimes will prohibit you from owning or possessing firearms.
At Holland & Usry, we know these charges can be motivated by nothing more than ill will, and you need an advocate who can skillfully explain your side. Call us today toll free at 888-230-1841 or 864-582-0416 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys and find out how we can help you.