Industry News for Criminal Defense Law in Columbia, South Carolina


In South Carolina, the terms DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation. However, in the legal context, these terms carry specific meanings and implications. At Thompson and Hiller, we believe in empowering our community with accurate legal information. This blog post aims to clarify the distinctions between DUI and DWI in South Carolina, providing essential insights for drivers in Columbia and beyond.

Understanding DUI in South Carolina

In South Carolina, DUI is defined as operating a motor vehicle while one’s ability to do so is impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both. The state uses two main criteria to establish DUI:

  1. Observation of Impairment: Law enforcement can determine impairment through behavior, physical signs, and performance on field sobriety tests.
  2. Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): A BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered prima facie evidence of impairment. For commercial drivers, the limit is 0.04%, and for drivers under 21, any detectable BAC (typically 0.02%) can lead to DUI charges.

Penalties for DUI in South Carolina escalate with subsequent offenses, ranging from fines and short-term imprisonment to longer jail sentences, higher fines, and permanent revocation of driving privileges for multiple offenses.

Exploring DWI in South Carolina

South Carolina law does not recognize DWI as a separate offense from DUI. The term DWI is more commonly used in other states, where it may differentiate between levels of impairment or substances causing impairment. In South Carolina, DUI encompasses all forms of impaired driving, irrespective of the substance involved or the specific level of impairment.

Penalties and Legal Consequences

DUI penalties in South Carolina are structured to increase with the severity of the offense:

  • First Offense: Penalties may include a fine of $400 to $1,000, imprisonment for 48 hours to 30 days, and a 6-month license suspension.
  • Second Offense: Increased fines of $2,100 to $5,100, imprisonment for 5 days to 1 year, and a 1-year license suspension.
  • Third and Subsequent Offenses: Further increased fines and longer imprisonment, with the possibility of permanent license revocation.

All offenders may be required to attend DUI education programs, and repeat offenders must install ignition interlock devices.

Differences in Legal Proceedings

While the terminology and specific legal processes might vary from state to state, South Carolina maintains a singular focus on DUI. In jurisdictions where DWI and DUI are differentiated, DWI might indicate a higher level of impairment or involve different evidence for conviction. South Carolina’s legal proceedings for DUI involve arrest, arraignment, pre-trial motions, and possibly a trial or plea agreement, with a focus on whether the prosecution can prove impairment beyond a reasonable doubt.

How Thompson and Hiller Can Help

Thompson and Hiller assist clients facing DUI charges by:

  • Providing a Thorough Case Review: Analyzing the details of the arrest and identifying any potential legal defenses or procedural errors.
  • Legal Representation: Representing clients in all legal proceedings, from arraignment through trial, if necessary.
  • Negotiating Plea Deals: When appropriate, negotiating plea deals to reduce penalties or charges.
  • Advocating for Alternative Sentencing: For eligible clients, advocating for alternative sentencing options such as diversion programs or probation.


In South Carolina, DUI covers all instances of impaired driving, regardless of the specific terminology used elsewhere. Understanding the legal definitions, penalties, and processes associated with DUI is essential for anyone facing these charges. Thompson and Hiller are committed to guiding clients through the complexities of DUI charges, providing personalized legal strategies to protect their rights and achieve the best possible outcome.

Call to Action

For anyone facing a DUI charge in South Carolina, securing knowledgeable legal support is crucial. Contact Thompson and Hiller to schedule a free consultation, where you can discuss your case, understand your legal options, and plan your defense with a team that prioritizes your rights and well-being.