A woman is facing felony DUI charges following a fatal crash that occurred in September of 2015 on I-26 in South Carolina. The woman, 24-year-old Destiny Mills, was driving her vehicle while intoxicated when she slammed into the rear of another vehicle, killing 21-year-old Olivia Johnson when she was ejected from the vehicle. While Johnson was the only one to die in the crash, two other victims sustained injuries and were transported to the hospital. In December, Mills was indicted of felony DUI resulting in death charges, and then released on a $100,000 bond and a requirement that she wear an alcohol monitor that tracks all alcohol consumption. She has yet to be formally convicted of the charges, although it is likely that she will face both civil and criminal penalties.
Felony DUI Charges in South Carolina
Under South Carolina Code of Laws Title 56, Chapter 5, Section 56-5-2945, a felony driving under the influence offense occurs when a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs drives a motor vehicle, and “neglects any duty imposed by law in the driving of the motor vehicle,” resulting in great bodily injury or death to another person.
According to the same section of code cited above, the offense is punishable (when resulting in death) by a mandatory fine of not less than $10,100, but not more than $25,100. In addition to a fine, a conviction for a felony DUI resulting in death carries a mandatory minimum sentence of at least one year in jail, but not more than 25 years. Of course, the convicted person will also be forced to surrender their license for the period of their incarceration, plus an additional five years.
It is important to note that the court cannot reduce a mandatory minimum sentence, nor suspend it in any way. This means that jail time cannot be replaced with probation, as is a common occurrence for other criminal convictions.
What the Prosecution Must Prove During a Felony DUI Case
In all criminal cases in South Carolina, the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is placed on the shoulders of the prosecution; the defendant does not have to “prove” their innocence. In order to get a felony DUI resulting in death conviction, the prosecution must prove three things:
- First, that the defendant in the case was actually under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- Second, that the defendant acted negligently as a result of the alcohol of drugs (i.e. ran a stop light, was speeding, changed lanes illegally, etc.); and
- Third, that the negligent behavior was the cause of the car accident, resulting in the death of the victim.
In other words, the prosecution cannot just prove that the defendant was drunk or that the defendant caused the crash – they must prove both in order to convict the defendant.
Building a strong defense to the prosecution’s claims that intoxication while driving led to neglect which led to death is essential; a felony DUI resulting in death conviction carries severe penalties which will have a significant effect on a defendant for the remainder of their life. Even when a defendant is released from prison, they will have a felony conviction on their permanent criminal record. A felony conviction can result in denied housing and employment opportunities, denied education opportunities, and more.
Defenses to Felony DUI Charges in South Carolina
If you are charged with a felony DUI charge in South Carolina and the prosecution holds proof that shows that you were indeed intoxicated at the time of the accident and that your actions were indeed the cause of the accident, knowing what your options are and how to build a defense can be very confusing.
One defense to a felony DUI is that intoxication was not the cause of your neglectful behavior, resulting in the crash. The validity of blood or breath alcohol test results may be questioned before the court, and the argument may be made that something other than intoxication – such as distraction – was the cause of the neglectful behavior.
Another defense is that while you were indeed intoxicated, your intoxication did not lead to the crash nor the death. For example, a driver who is intoxicated but is not otherwise driving their vehicle neglectfully (i.e is following all posted traffic laws and limits), and is involved in a crash caused by the fault of another driver, may have felony DUI charges against them dropped or reduced.
Another defense may be lack of knowledge. For example, if a person legally took a prescription drug, and if the prescription drug impaired their ability to drive and the person was not aware of this impairment, a criminal conviction may not be appropriate.
The Importance of Taking Action Immediately
Being charged with a felony DUI, especially a DUI resulting in death, is a very serious offense with long-lasting implication. Because of the sensitive nature of these types of charges, it is essential to take action immediately upon being charged with a felony DUI.
The best thing that you can do after an arrest is to refrain from giving a statement and to contact an experienced South Carolina DUI attorney as soon as possible. A felony DUI attorney who has handled cases resulting in bodily injury or death in the past can help you to develop your defense or negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution. Even when it feels as though the odds are stacked against you, it is within your best interest to contact an knowledge criminal defense lawyer who is committed to working for you.
Contact The Bateman Law Firm Today
One stupid decision can change your life and the life of another innocent person in an instant. While the simplest solution is to never drink and drive, we at The Bateman Law Firm understand that bad decisions do not make you a bad person, and we are committed to ensuring that your constitutional rights are protected after you have been charged with a DUI offense. Contact us today for a confidential case consultation.