Can I sue if I was wrongfully arrested for DUI in SC?
You might have a civil claim against the officer, police department, city, or county, but your first priority is making sure that a wrongful arrest for DUI doesn't become a wrongful conviction for DUI...
If you were wrongfully arrested, don't assume that the officer, a prosecutor, or even a judge is going to care - get an experienced Myrtle Beach DUI defense and personal injury lawyer on your case immediately.
If you are convicted of DUI, convicted of another offense that you could have been arrested for, plead guilty to a reduced traffic offense like reckless driving, or even if you enter a pretrial diversion program, you may lose your right to sue for the wrongful arrest.
Wrongfully Arrested for DUI in SC?
"Wrongfully arrested" is a phrase that can have multiple meanings:
- It is a legal "term of art" that means your constitutional or statutory rights were violated and that you may have a civil claim against the officer, department, or municipality that arrested you;
- It could mean that you were arrested without probable cause; or
- It could simply mean that you were arrested when you should not have been arrested.
Not Guilty is not the Same as Wrongfully Arrested
If you are not guilty of the crime, that doesn't always mean that you were "wrongfully arrested."
Your first step after a wrongful arrest for DUI in SC is to get your DUI charges dismissed or win your case at trial. Even when we get your case dismissed or a jury acquits you of the charges, you may not have a civil lawsuit based on your arrest.
When Do I Not Have a Lawsuit After a DUI Arrest in SC?
It is exceedingly rare that a client will have a civil claim based on a wrongful arrest for DUI in SC, although it does happen. When do you not have a lawsuit after a DUI arrest in SC?
When there was Probable Cause for the DUI Arrest
If you performed terribly on the standardized field sobriety tests and blew a .18 on the breathalyzer after a DUI arrest, we may still be able to get your case dismissed based on mistakes that the officer made during your arrest.
A jury may still acquit you based on facts we bring out at trial, including your own testimony, the testimony of sobriety witnesses, or problems with the Datamaster machine that caused an inaccurate breath test result.
We may get your case dismissed or the prosecutor may offer a non-DUI traffic offense based on the likelihood that the breath test results or blood test results will be suppressed at trial. That doesn't mean that you have a lawsuit for wrongful arrest, though.
If the arresting officer had probable cause to believe that you were driving while intoxicated - based on your actions, your performance on the field sobriety tests, or the breathalyzer test results - you were not "wrongfully arrested" and you most likely do not have a civil claim, even if we get your case dismissed.
When you Plead Guilty
If you plead guilty or are convicted of DUI, you do not have a lawsuit for a wrongful arrest - you've either admitted the arrest was valid or a panel of jurors has decided you were guilty.
If you plead guilty to another offense, even though the DUI is dismissed, you have still just admitted that there was probable cause to arrest you and will most likely not have a lawsuit.
Even if there was an offense you could have been charged with but were not, if you could have gone to jail for that offense, you may not have a civil suit for wrongful arrest because you will not have damages. If your damages are based on a wrongful arrest, but you would have (or could have) been arrested anyway, that negates your damages claim.
Even if you don't plead guilty but enter a diversion program where you do not admit guilt, you may not have a civil suit after you complete the program.
If you believe that you were arrested without probable cause, do not make any decisions or statements about your case until you have talked to your DUI defense attorney on the Axelrod team.
When Can I Sue if I was Wrongfully Arrested for DUI in SC?
If you were charged with DUI in SC and the officer did not have probable cause for the arrest, you may have a lawsuit for wrongful arrest after your case is dismissed or you are acquitted at trial.
No probable cause means that a reasonable officer would not have thought that your performance on the field sobriety tests, in conjunction with other evidence, indicated intoxication. No probable cause might mean that you took the breathalyzer and the result was less than .05.
No probable cause might mean that you also took a blood test or urinalysis to prove that you were not intoxicated - when you take the breathalyzer and the result is no intoxication, many officers will "double down" and insist that you were intoxicated on drugs instead of alcohol...
Why Would Police Charge Someone with DUI if They are not Intoxicated?
Ironically, the main reason is that they don't want to get sued... therefore, they put an innocent person in jail. Making it more likely that they will get sued and guaranteeing that the lawsuit will be worse than it would have been if they had just released the person with no charges.
Police in SC usually do not use PBTs (personal breath tests) on the roadside - if they suspect that you are DUI, they will take you to the jail or police department and give you a breathalyzer test on the Datamaster machine.
Once they have detained you on the roadside, handcuffed you, towed your vehicle, transported you in their patrol car, detained you in the Datamaster room, and administered the breathalyzer test, are they just going to release you when they discover there's no alcohol in your system?
Or will they realize they screwed up, write in their report that they believe you were intoxicated on drugs, and let the lawyers sort it out later?
Wrongful Arrest for DUI - Incompetence
The reason for the wrongful arrest is not always malicious - sometimes it is due to incompetence. Consider the 200,000+ verdict that a Columbia man received two years ago:
...the officer ordered Hassell out of the car, told him he smelled alcohol on Hassell's breath and was going to charge him with driving under the influence. Hassell told the officer he had not been drinking and, in fact, never drank.
At that, the officer told Hassell to submit to field sobriety tests in front of the police car. The officer kept referring to a small instruction book on how to give the tests.
"The arresting officer was completely unfamiliar with the procedures ... and stumbled through the instructions," the lawsuit said.
Hassell said the officer told him he had flunked the tests, Hassell told The State.
The officer then told Hassell he had one more test. But it was a "ruse" to have Hassell place his arms out so he could be handcuffed.
The officer took Hassell to police headquarters, where Hassell blew a 0.0 on a breath alcohol analyzing machine.
The arresting officer began insisting that Hassell had taken drugs. Then the officer took Hassell to Palmetto Health Richland, where he walked him through the emergency room in handcuffs, in front of the medical staff and patients.
The officer didn't know how to take the urine sample and had to call a supervisor.
Then the officer had Hassell transported to the Alvin S. Glenn jail.
Of course, the urinalysis revealed the victim, who turned out to be a USC professor, was not using drugs either...
Another man settled a lawsuit against the Mauldin, SC Police Department last December when he was arrested, charged with DUI, and forced to hire a DUI defense attorney to get his case dismissed after blowing a .02 on the breathalyzer and a urinalysis showed no drugs in his system...
Wrongful Arrest for DUI - Maliciousness
Sometimes, a police officer will arrest a person and charge them with DUI knowing that the person is not guilty - for retribution, to cover for their own actions, or to cover for other police officers.
For example, last year, a man in Brooklyn received a nearly $1 million verdict after a police officer ran a stop sign and hit his car. The police then charged him with DUI, saying that he "had slurred speech, watery eyes, an odor of alcohol on his breath and was observed swaying."
After his breath test showed no alcohol in his system and a blood test showed no drugs in his system, the victim's bogus DUI charges were dismissed, and he sued the police...
In another case I wrote about in 2018, a former teacher of the year in SC was charged with felony DUI resulting in death after a crash with an off-duty police officer who was riding a motorcycle. A state trooper said that she performed poorly on the field sobriety tests, she smelled like alcohol, and she had red, glassy eyes.
The breathalyzer, blood tests, and independent tests confirmed that there was 0 alcohol and no drugs in her system, though...
If you were wrongfully charged with DUI in SC, your Myrtle Beach DUI defense lawyer on the Axelrod team will investigate your case, work hard to get your case dismissed or win your case at trial, and help you to determine whether you have a civil claim against the officer or police department.