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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

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.