DUI laws discussed during week 6 of Citizens Police Academy - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

DUI laws discussed during week 6 of Citizens Police Academy

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Police officers taught students participating in the sixth week of the Myrtle Beach Citizens Police Academy about DUI laws.

Patrolman First Class Shon McCluskey and Master Corporal Orion Cozene taught the class. They explained a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired in order to initiate at traffic stop. According to South Carolina law, that can be a result of a combination of drugs and/or alcohol that could materially and appreciably impair you while driving a motor vehicle.

Having a Blood Alcohol Composition of above 0.08 percent is considered illegal. But driving under the influence of illegal drugs, distracted with a phone or radio, or while taking prescription medication can also be considered driving impaired. The officers also described a scenario of pulling over a man who was driving erratically. It turned out he was diabetic and having a medical emergency. The officers emphasized they are here to help, so they handle each situation with discretion, but if you are driving impaired and are causing a danger to yourself and everyone else on the road, the police officer can take action to warn, cite, or arrest you.  

The purpose of the traffic division for the Myrtle Beach Police Department is to reduce traffic collisions and fatalities, and police officers do that by initiating traffic stops, educating drivers, writing tickets, and making arrests. But in order to stop you, that officer needs to have reasonable suspicion that you are impaired. So in the class, students learned these officers are looking for things like speeding, swerving in and out of a lane, wide turns, and other dangerous driving habits. That allows them to pull you over in order to see if in fact there's more to the story – if you are impaired, or if you need help, or if it was a simple mistake.

The officers and Jonny McCoy, a local attorney, all agree that staying calm will be the biggest help no matter what you're pulled over for.

"You almost have to prove to the officer on the roadside, who says he has you for suspicion of DUI, ‘Hey, this is where I was, this is where I came from, there's no possible way, and I'm on no prescription drugs," explains McCoy.

And McCoy says having all of this on camera is another way to make sure both you and the officer are protected.

"In the state of South Carolina, probable cause must be on camera," says McCoy. "Our statute has four requirements. That the probable cause be on video. That the Miranda warning be on video. The entire test must be on video. Meaning their feet, all the way up to their eyes, their head must be on the video. And then all the way down to the booking must be on video."

Before an officer can ever make an arrest, he or she must determine there is enough suspicion to stop the car, then observe the driver, then complete a field sobriety test. The Myrtle Beach Police Department follows the standard guidelines of a field sobriety test of a horizontal gaze nystagmus (also known as the eye test), walk and turn test, and one leg test. The officers may also ask a driver to count, recite part of the alphabet, and perform finger dexterity tests.

If you fail a field sobriety test, you may be asked to perform a breathalyzer test to measure your BAC. If you refuse, you will automatically be charged with DUI and your license will be administratively suspended for six months. If you blow above a 0.15 percent, you will be charged with DUI and your license will be administratively suspended for one month. If you blow below a 0.15 percent, you will be charged with DUI but your license will not be administratively suspended. In each situation, your criminal case may solidify or refute your charges, which could result in harsher penalties or a dismissal.

Myrtle Beach does uphold a Zero Tolerance policy for anyone under the age of 21 years old. If you are caught driving with a BAC of 0.02% or higher underage, your license will be suspended. According to the law, the limit is set at 0.02 percent because some individuals’ liver may create enough enzymes naturally that might trigger a BAC between 0.00 and 0.02 percent.

“Our state is tough on DUI’s,” says McCoy. “Whether or not people want to believe that or not. We just have a multitude of DUI’s in the Myrtle Beach area because people come here for entertainment purposes. I don’t think the police have it out for young individuals or that they have a quota. I think we got it right with our South Carolina laws.”

For a first offense, you could face a minimum fine of $1,000, a six-month suspension of your license, and at least 48 hours in jail. For a second offense, you could face a $2,000 fine, a one-year suspension of your license, and five days to one year in prison. For the third offense, you could face a $3,000 fine, a two-year suspension of your license, and 60 days to three years in prison. And for a fourth offense, you could have your license suspended permanently and face one to five years in prison.

The police officer must have probable cause to make an arrest. And according to the officers, it is a myth that police officers have to meet a quota of traffic tickets each month.

As a reminder, being impaired doesn't just mean you're drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs. Prescription drugs or a medical condition could impair your driving. A good rule of thumb is if the medical label on the prescription bottle warns you not to operate heavy machinery while taking the drug, you may be driving impaired with that in your system.

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