What Are South Carolina’s Habitual Offender Laws?

As both criminal defense attorneys and DUI defense lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina we’ve helped drivers who’ve lost their license because the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) declared them to be Habitual Traffic Offenders (“habitual offenders”) under South Carolina Code Section 56-1-1020. The consequences of being designated as a habitual offender in South Carolina can be devastating especially because you can’t drive for five (5) years. Also, you can’t get a route-restricted license. Lastly, if you drive during that five-year period, the criminal penalties can be severe. This article explains the law in South Carolina regarding habitual offenders and how to get your driver’s license back.

What is a Habitual Offender in South Carolina?

3 Major Traffic Violations Within 3 Years – If you have 3 convictions for “major” traffic violations in a 3-year span, you can be declared a habitual offender. “Major” traffic offenses include:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC)
  • Reckless driving
  • Driving under suspension (DUS) (except for failing to file a certificate of SR-22 insurance)
  • Voluntary manslaughter arising out of the operation of a motor vehicle
  • Involuntary manslaughter arising out of the operation of a motor vehicle
  • Reckless homicide arising out of the operation of a motor vehicle
  • Failure to stop for an accident resulting in death or injury
  • Any felony offense arising out of the operation of a motor vehicle such as felony DUI.

10 Violations Within 3 Years – If you have 10 convictions for “minor” traffic violations in a 3-year span, you can be declared a habitual offender. “Minor” violations are those that carry four or more points against your driver’s license, such as speeding more than 10 mph over the speed limit or failure to stop for a traffic signal. Major violations also count.

For purposes of determining whether your violations fall within a 3 year period, the DMV goes by the incident date of each violation, not the court date or conviction date.

Is Habitual Offender a Felony in South Carolina?

No. Being declared a habitual offender is a function of the DMV suspending your driver’s license. However, it is a felony to drive during your suspension as a habitual offender. The punishment includes up to 5 years in jail, and you will be barred from ever driving in South Carolina. If you drive during your suspension and cause an accident resulting in great bodily injury, you can serve up to 10 years in jail. If the accident results in death, you may serve up to 20 years in jail.

What Happens to Drivers Who are Habitual Offenders in South Carolina?

The DMV will send a notice that your license either is at risk of being suspended because you are a habitual offender. The DMV sends this notice to the address you have listed in their records (South Carolina law requires you to change your address with the DMV within 10 days anytime you move).

If your license has been suspended as a habitual offender in South Carolina, you can challenge the suspension within thirty (30) days after receiving your notice from the DMV by requesting a hearing. During this hearing, you may challenge many issues including whether the DMV miscounted the number of traffic violations within a 3 or 10 year period or whether the DMV misclassified your traffic violations such as whether your conviction was a felony.

When Can a Habitual Offender Get Their License Back in South Carolina?

After 2 years of suspension, you can apply to the DMV to get your license back. To succeed, there are 5 conditions you must meet.

  1. You can’t have a previous habitual offender suspension in any state.
  2. You must not have driven a motor vehicle since your suspension began.
  3. You can’t have any arrests for any alcohol or drug violations since the suspension began.
  4. You can’t have any traffic violations since the suspension began.
  5. You can’t have any other mandatory license suspensions that have not yet reached their end date.

The DMV will respond within 30 days after you’ve made your request to get your license back. If the DMV denies your request, you can appeal the decision to the Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings (OMVH) to challenge whether the DMV misinterpreted the law or your driving history and to present witnesses and evidence in your favor. Also, you may be able to convince the OMVH that there is a “good cause” for why you should get your license back. If the OMVH denies your appeal, you can then petition the Administrative Law Court (ALC) to decide your case again.

If you succeed in getting your license back after 2 years, but you receive another “major” violation during the original 5-year period, the DMV will suspend you again for the remainder of the 5-year period. You can only try to reduce your suspension ONCE so it is important to present your evidence correctly and completely the first time. Also, if the DMV discovers later that you gave incorrect information during the application and/or appeal process, they can come back and suspend you.

Charleston Attorneys for Habitual Offenders

If you’ve lost your license because you’re a habitual offender, contact the attorneys at Futeral & Nelson to discuss your rights and how to get your license back.

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