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Experience, Preparation, and Persistence: A Winning Combination

Jim came to me like many DUI clients, afraid and embarrassed. And for good reason—he not only got a DUI with a .11 breath test result, but his case had two additional, really bad factors:

He’d caused a wreck on the interstate, and he’d fled the scene.

Like many of my clients, his record before this was absolutely spotless. He and his wife live the American dream: he has a fantastic job—earned on the strength of a high-level college degree and good old-fashioned hard work— that allows them to live comfortably. They are very proud of their grown son, who has a great job of his own.

But now he wondered if he might lose it all.

So began Jim’s legal journey, full of twists and turns, ending in a result we hoped for but didn’t necessarily expect.

The Charges

For the DUI, Jim faced around $1,100 in fines and court costs—or even a possible jail sentence from a minimum of 72 hours up to 30 days—plus the host of problems that come with a DUI conviction.

But the immediate concern was the charge for leaving the scene of an accident, usually called hit-and-run. That charge carried up to a year in prison or up to more than $10,000 in fines and court costs—or even both.

We Get to Work

Jim found me on the internet. After hiring me, he immediately did the most important thing any client can do: he totally committed himself to helping me help him.

I knew we had a potentially injured victim. One of the first things I wanted to do was assess her situation. I did that by taking what some lawyers might consider an unusual step. Instead of “flexing muscles” by requesting a jury trial, I showed up at Jim’s first court date.

That gave me a chance to speak to the officer.

Jim Helps Me Before I Was Hired

At court, I delicately attempted a quick-strike negotiation to end the case fast, on Jim’s terms. I asked for a dismissal of all charges in exchange for a plea to a reduced charge of reckless driving. It failed for the moment but still helped in the long run.

The officer was a seasoned veteran who I’d worked with before. I was glad he was on the case because veteran officers don’t get offended easily by defense attorneys they respect, and they can be reasoned with about weaknesses in their cases.

He told me Jim was polite and respectful. That’s the most important thing a DUI suspect can do during the investigation. It helps ensure the officer won’t have an ax to grind on you, and it's evidence you controlled yourself in a stressful, confrontational situation, which drunks aren’t known to do.

While we couldn’t get the case resolved then, I felt I’d cracked the ice pretty good.

Discovery Reveals a Silver Bullet

A vital part of any DUI case is the discovery process, where we file a motion to force the state to give up all the evidence in the case. One of the best reasons to hire a skilled DUI defense attorney is that we can find defenses you didn’t even know about.

Jim’s case proves it: the officer’s dashcam video revealed a glitch, providing a potential avenue for dismissal.

The officer violated South Carolina’s unique video law by not fully showing Jim doing all of the sobriety tests. Needless to say, this inspired new hope in us, but we were a long way from home.

One Down, One to Go, Thanks to Teamwork

At my direction, Jim took steps to show he’d learned from his experience.

He attended a victim impact panel hosted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, where victims of tragic DUI accidents tell their stories. These are often powerfully moving events, as victims describe the horrific, unjustified loss of loved ones and the scars left on their lives by DUI wrecks. Jim also completed classes you’re required to take when you get convicted of DUI in South Carolina—even though he hadn’t been convicted yet.

I presented this to the prosecutor in another attempt to resolve the entire case on Jim’s terms. It got us halfway there.

The prosecutor agreed to compromise on the hit-and-run charge. I was able to negotiate Jim a deal for a reduced charge where he paid a $100 base fine.

We Really Fight the DUI—With Shocking Results

I filed a motion to dismiss the DUI for the video violation. This generated a ton of work. For these motions, I thoroughly prepare a brief for the judge, which my assistant Camila patiently processes and packages for presentation.

I felt very confident the hearing went well. The prosecutor’s counter-arguments seemed weak to me. It wasn’t his fault: we had the facts and the law on our side.

Then we got the order. The judge ruled the field sobriety tests couldn’t be presented to the jury at trial. But that wasn’t what we wanted. As far as I was concerned, we lost.

I was shocked. Utterly shocked. So was Jim.

Not to be easily defeated, I filed a motion to reconsider, pointing out again why we should win. It got denied.

All we could do is prepare a tough case for trial. And we had to remember it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. If we lost, Jim had a good shot on appeal.

Help From Unexpected Sources

The crash victim hired a lawyer to sue Jim for injuries from the crash. Believe it or not, I was relieved. Knowing the victim had a say in offering a deal and that a reduced charge conviction could help the victim’s lawsuit, I explained our strategy for the DUI to the victim’s attorney.

Even if we lost at trial, we felt we could win dismissal on appeal. That could drag out the lawsuit and even hurt their case.

He and his client agreed they’d allow Jim to plead to reckless driving.

We still had to get agreement from the state—from both the officer and the prosecutor. Surprisingly, they agreed! I suspect they knew we could win on appeal.

It almost fell apart in court when the victim got confused and refused to allow it. I made frantic calls to the victim’s lawyer, who couldn’t believe it himself. As he graciously called his client at my insistence, I held off an increasingly impatient judge who understandably didn’t want the people’s court time wasted.

In the nick of time, we got the deal done.

The DUI got dismissed. Jim pled to reckless driving. He paid a $440 fine and lost points from his license.

It was over on the terms I told Jim, the first time we talked, would be his best-case scenario. 

 

Rob Usry
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Rob is a South Carolina personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.

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