How do you fight driving under suspension charges in SC? Can you fight them?
In this article, we will discuss SC law on driving under suspension charges, including:
- The elements of driving under suspension (DUS),
- SC’s DUS notice requirements,
- Options that may be available after you are charged with driving under suspension, and
- The dangers of SC’s DUS “revolving door” of license suspensions and jail time.
Driving Under Suspension Charges: Notice Requirements
How do you fight driving under suspension (DUS) charges in SC?
Hopefully, your case can be resolved with a dismissal or a rewrite of your ticket to something that will not suspend your license or result in habitual offender status. But, if pretrial negotiations are unsuccessful, how do you fight the charges at a trial?
Elements of Driving Under Suspension Charges in SC
Before you can be convicted of driving under suspension, the prosecutor must prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. SC Code § 56-1-460 contains the elements of DUS and requires proof that you:
- Drove a motor vehicle…
- On a public highway in SC…
- While your license to drive was canceled, suspended, or revoked.
Sound simple enough? You were either driving or not – it’s likely the officer saw you behind the wheel or you are video driving the vehicle. If there is no proof that you were driving, however, you are entitled to a directed verdict.
You may or may not have been on a “public highway.” If you were on your own property or a private road, you should also get a directed verdict of acquittal.
Was your license canceled, suspended, or revoked? DMV records should establish this element, but, more importantly, this gives rise to the fourth element of driving under suspension charges:
- Did you receive sufficient notice that your license was canceled, suspended, or revoked?
If you did not know that your license was suspended, you should not be jailed and subject to an additional license suspension for driving. Therefore, SC law has specific requirements for how the state must prove that you received notice.
Notice by US Mail
As a starting point, SC Code § 56-1-350 says: “In all cases of cancellation, suspension, or revocation of drivers’ licenses, the Department of Motor Vehicles shall notify the licensee as prescribed in Section 56-1-360 that his license has been canceled, suspended, or revoked.”
So we need to look at SC Code § 56-1-360, which says: “When notice is required concerning a person’s driver’s license, the notice must be given by the Department of Motor Vehicles by depositing the notice in the United States mail with postage prepaid addressed to the person at the address contained in the driver’s license records of the department.”
So “in all cases,” notice sent by US mail is sufficient – how does the State prove that the notice was sent by US mail? The statute goes on to say “[a] certificate by the director of the department or his designee that the notice has been sent as required in this section is presumptive proof that the requirements as to notice of suspension have been met even if the notice has not been received by the addressee.”
But “in all cases” apparently does not mean “in all cases,” because, for some types of suspensions, US mail is not enough.
Notice by Certified Mail – Return Receipt Requested
SC Code § 56-1-465 specifies the type of notice required when your license was suspended for a previous conviction for driving under suspension. It says: “[t]he licensee shall be notified of suspension under Section 56-1-460 the same as is required when the license is suspended due to loss of points as provided in Section 56-1-810.”
Section 56-1-460 is the driving under suspension statute, and SC Code § 56-1-810 says that a person whose license is suspended for accumulation of 12 or more driving points must be notified “in writing, return receipt requested, that his license has been suspended.”
This means that the prosecutor must produce a green “return receipt” showing that the notice of suspension was sent certified mail – as an element of the driving under suspension charges – in every case where the suspension was based on 1) a prior driving under suspension charge or 2) an accumulation of 12 or more points on your license.
For every other type of suspension, a certificate by the director that states the notice was sent by US mail is sufficient.
What Happens if the Prosecutor Does not Prove Notice?
If the prosecutor does not prove that notice of suspension was sent in compliance with the driving under suspension laws, the trial judge should “direct a verdict” after the state rests their case.
No evidence is not sufficient evidence to send the case to a jury.
The Statute Means What It Says
Magistrates and municipal court judges in Horry County, and probably in other areas of the state, have said “that statute doesn’t mean what you think it does,” and “well, this is how we’ve always done it, so we’re gonna keep doing it this way.” In both cases, they were wrong, and the circuit court overturned the magistrate’s and municipal court’s decision to deny a directed verdict.
The statutes, although they might be difficult to puzzle through the first time, are unambiguous and they mean what they say. In a 1998 opinion, the SC Court of Appeals, in State v. Smith, has also confirmed that the statutes mean what they say, regardless of “how you’ve always done it ‘round here.”
Resolving DUS/ Driving Under Suspension Charges in SC Without a Trial
In many cases, driving under suspension charges can be resolved without a trial (and possible appeal).
Mitigation and “Reduced” Charges
Most police officers and prosecutors do not want to suspend your license again – they recognize the difficulties that many people face when they start picking up multiple license suspensions, yet they need to get to work, get their children to school, and get to the grocery store to feed their family.
In some cases, an officer or prosecutor may work with us if we can demonstrate that you are not driving anymore and you are working to get your license reinstated by serving out the suspension and paying your fees to the DMV.
Especially if you can get your license reinstated before your court date, it might be possible to get your driving under suspension charges dismissed or to have them rewritten to an offense like “driving without a license” that does not carry an additional license suspension.
Don’t Get Caught in the DUS “Revolving Door”
If you get a traffic violation in SC, fight it so that you do not begin accumulating driving points. Think ahead and avoid a license suspension whenever possible.
If your license is suspended, don’t drive. Get a restricted license if possible or make other arrangements for transportation. Pay your DMV fees, and get your license reinstated as soon as possible.
If you are charged with driving under suspension, fight the charges – if you are convicted, your license will be suspended again, consecutively, and you will be dangerously close to habitual traffic offender status where your license is revoked and the next DUS will carry up to five years in prison…
If you have been charged with driving under suspension in SC, fight the charges and do everything possible to 1) comply with your suspension and 2) get your license reinstated.