The stress and tension caused by the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in some South Carolina residents drinking more alcohol than normal. Many families have been confined to their houses for over two months. People around South Carolina and the United States have also seen massive job loss, with over 33 million Americans filing for unemployment since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak. The uncertain economic future of many South Carolina residents might lead them to make decisions they would not normally make, resulting in DUI charges.
Have DUI Arrests Increased During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
South Carolina DUI arrests have dropped dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Charleston, South Carolina police have reported that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a drop in DUI arrests for driving while under the influence of alcohol. The numbers are likely down because the bars have been closed due to shut-down orders during the pandemic.
There are also fewer drivers on the road. While some law enforcement agencies have noticed a decline in DUI arrests, law enforcement are still making DUI arrests during this uncertain time. The North Charleston Police Department has reported an increase in DUI arrests, however.
Defendants Face DUI Charges and Coronavirus-Related Charges
A Midlands, South Carolina, man is facing criminal charges for violating South Carolina’s “home or work” order. He crashed his motor vehicle into a residential home during the first week of April. Nobody was injured in the accident, even though one person was inside the house at the time of the crash, but extensive property damage occurred. Law enforcement cited the man for violating South Carolina’s stay at home order.
The order requires people to stay at home unless they are an essential worker who is going to work or tending to their other essential needs. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued the stay at home order as an executive order. Law enforcement also charged the man with a DUI. They suspected that alcohol use was involved in the crash. If a jury convicts the man of violating the stay at home order and a DUI, he will face serious penalties including jail time and fines.
South Carolina Courts Are Backlogged Due to Coronavirus
All courts in South Carolina shut down for over a week in the middle of March. The Chief Justice then issued some guidance regarding how South Carolina courts can proceed with their operations. The courts have slowly reopened. They are operating somewhat normally, with a few exceptions. Any hearings that require defendants to be physically present at trial, such as in jury trials, have been canceled. Additionally, any hearings that require an attorney to directly examine or cross-examine a witness have been canceled.
Courts are looking at each criminal case individually. If you have been charged with a DUI in South Carolina, you have a constitutional right to a trial in front of a jury of your peers. The courts have stopped holding jury trials as of right now, creating a serious backlog of DUI cases.
Defendants Held in Prison are Concerned About Becoming Infected
Some South Carolina residents who have been charged with a DUI or convicted of a DUI and who are waiting to get out on bond or on parole are stuck in jails due to the slow down in the court system. Sitting in a crowded South Carolina jail can be dangerous because of the high transmissibility rate of coronavirus.
The South Carolina Legislature will return on Tuesday to decide on whether it will pass additional laws to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. It remains to be seen if they will pass any legislation that will aid people in South Carolina jails who are seeking to get out on parole or those who are awaiting a trial.
So far, the South Carolina judicial system has issued its own rulings and policies regarding coronavirus. We are unsure as of right now when South Carolina courts will begin hearing jury trials again for DUI charges.
Your Rights as a DUI Defendant During the Coronavirus Pandemic
The DUI laws in South Carolina have not changed during the coronavirus pandemic. If anything, law enforcement officers are more prone to making arrests when they do see a suspicious driver. There are significantly fewer drivers on the road due to the shutdown order. This makes it easier for law enforcement to spot a potential DUI.
During the pandemic, many things have changed, but your rights as a defendant have not changed. South Carolina residents are still entitled to all of their constitutional rights. Law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing a crime to pull a vehicle over. If they do not, your defense lawyer can request that the judge dismiss your charges because they are unconstitutional.
Additionally, you have a right to a speedy trial under the fifth amendment of the Constitution. Should the coronavirus pandemic continue to drag onward, it is possible that defendants could raise a legal defense under this provision of the constitution. Defendants should not have to wait in dangerous jail systems for months before their trial date, even during a pandemic. After all, our constitutional rights are more important than ever during a crisis.
Contact an Experienced South Carolina DUI Lawyer
For those who are facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, we recommend hiring a skilled DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Now, more than ever, you need someone fighting for your rights who gives your case the undivided attention it deserves.
If you are currently being held in jail waiting to get out on bail, the lawyers at Bannon Law Group, LLC can help you petition the court and fight to get out of prison to decrease your chances of becoming infected with the coronavirus. Wherever you are in the criminal procedure process, our lawyers can help fight for your rights. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.