General Information on DUI Charges in Greenville
I’m James C. Thomas, and DUI Defense is all I do. My law office is in Spartanburg, but I have plenty of experience going to court to defend people accused of DUI in Greenville and in the surrounding cities throughout Greenville County.
Below is some general information about DUI charges in Greenville that I am happy to provide for you. Consultations in my office (or over the phone, or Zoom) are always free, and there are always important details unique to each individual case that demand the attention of a dedicated DUI attorney. But these are some general things to keep in mind.
What is going to court for a DUI in Greenville like?
If you are charged with a first-offense DUI (meaning that you haven’t been convicted of DUI in the past ten years), then you’ll be going to a Summary Court – either one of the municipal courts that handle cases within the city limits, or otherwise, one of the divisions of Greenville Magistrate Court.
If you were arrested by a police officer in one of the six cities in Greenville County – Greenville, Travelers Rest, Simpsonville, Mauldin, Fountain Inn, and Greer – your case will be in that city’s Municipal Court.
If you were arrested by a state trooper, county deputy, or by an officer who works for some other agency, you are most likely going to find yourself going to one of the various Magistrate Courts located throughout the county.
You’ll find the name and address of the court you need to go to in the middle of your ticket (and also on your bond paperwork). The court date that is on your ticket is a bench trial date. A bench trial is a trial without a jury – the judge hears the case, rules on legal issues, but also reaches a verdict of either Guilty or Not Guilty like a jury would.
In general, it’s better to have a jury trial than a bench trial. But depending on which court you’re in, there might still be a benefit to going to your bench trial date. It’s an opportunity to speak to the arresting officer and come to an early resolution, if that’s what you want to do.
If you are charged with a second-offense (or more) DUI, then most of the above won’t apply to you. Instead, your case is going to be heard in the Greenville County Court of General Sessions. That takes place in the Greenville County Courthouse in downtown Greenville. General Sessions Court handles DUIs other than first-offense DUIs even if the case is made by one of the smaller city police departments. You don’t get a bench trial date in General Sessions Court. Instead, there are a series of appearances you’ll have to go to at the courthouse before the case is resolved, either with a plea or trial.
One advantage to being in General Sessions Court is that you do have the right to request a preliminary hearing. Customarily, your request has to be submitted within 10 days of your arrest. This is a hearing where the officer has to testify as to what the probable cause was for your arrest. It’s kind of like a mini-trial. There’s no jury, and the judge at a preliminary hearing does not require evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” like they would at an actual trial. But it’s a good opportunity to cross-examine the officer, get their answers in the record under oath, and preview what trial may look like. Since DUI cases are usually judgment calls made by officers with a wide variety of training and experience, the preliminary hearing is a nice “dry run” for me to cross-examine them and get a sense of what your chances look like at trial. Preliminary hearings might happen at the Greenville County Courthouse or at one of the summary courts, depending on which jurisdiction the case originated from.
If you’re going to court in the main courthouse in downtown Greenville, remember to leave your phone in your car. The deputies working security at the entrance have always been strict about that. Also, parking is tight at the main courthouse as well as Greenville Municipal Court, so get there early enough to hunt down a spot.
If I hire a lawyer, do I have to personally appear in court?
A lawyer can probably get you out of going to most of your early court dates, and possibly from going to court at all depending on how the case is ultimately resolved. Court rules in South Carolina allow lawyers to waive the appearance of their clients if they have permission. Some of the Summary Courts in Greenville County allow plea agreements by affidavit, meaning that if you have a lawyer handling everything, you might not even have to come to court if you’re entering a plea (to reckless driving or to another DUI/DUAC offense).
I get asked a lot if it “looks better” if you show up even though your lawyer says you don’t have to. The answer is generally no. It is very normal for lawyers to show up at preliminary court dates without their clients, and I’ve never seen a Summary Court judge anywhere within Greenville County make a big deal (or even a small deal) out of it. They probably won’t even remember the next time around anyway. It might not even be the same judge. I know that my clients don’t want to come to court unless they have to, and I also know my clients want to do everything they can to help their case. If it helps you to come to court, I’ll tell you. If it’s a court date where you’re required to be there, I’ll tell you. But if I tell you that it’s OK to go to work or stay home, don’t feel like you’re missing something by doing so. This is one of the many benefits to hiring an attorney – take advantage of it.
What if my license was suspended as a result of my arrest in Greenville County?
If you receive an administrative license suspension as a result of a DUI arrest anywhere in Greenville County, you have the right to request an administrative hearing to try and get the suspension dismissed. And while you’re waiting for that hearing to come around, you can get temporary driving privileges that aren’t restricted by time of day or destination. You have to request the hearing properly, and you have to make sure that your request is received by the DMV within thirty days. If you hire me, we’ll talk about how I can handle this process for you.
Administrative hearings that are held as a result of a Greenville County license suspension will be held in Greer Municipal Court, at 100 S. Main St., Greer, SC 29650. It doesn’t matter whether you were arrested in Travelers Rest, Simpsonville, or Greenville – your administrative hearing will be in Greer. It will usually be scheduled about two or three months after the request is received by the DMV.
If you have a lawyer, you don’t have to physically appear at this hearing as long as your lawyer is there on your behalf. There are strategic reasons why you might want to be there to testify, but that’s a case-by-case decision that I’ll discuss with you ahead of time if you hire me to represent you.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol officers who make DUI arrests within Greenville County usually show up to these hearings. This is a relatively recent development. It used to be easy to get your suspension dismissed at the hearing because the officer just wouldn’t be there. Sometimes you get lucky, but no longer can you take for granted that this will be the case. I have never seen an officer from the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office at these hearings, but I still prepare the cases I have with that department in case they do show up. Officers from the various city police departments sometimes show, and sometimes they don’t. I’ve seen City of Greenville, City of Simpsonville, and City of Travelers Rest officers show up recently, but I’ve also had officers from those cities skip out.
I always prepare as though the officer is going to be at the hearing, even if I have a strong hunch that they won’t be. I figure I owe it to my clients, who have paid me good money, to prepare for every possible scenario.
Keep in mind that this process is completely separate from actually going to court for your DUI. Different judge, different location, different type of hearing, different standard of evidence. This is only about the administrative suspension (blue sheet of paper) you got for either refusing the breath test or for blowing too high a BAC. The outcome of one doesn’t affect what’s going to happen with the other.
Who prosecutes DUIs in Greenville County?
If your case is in one of the Magistrate Courts or at the Greenville County Court of General Sessions, then the 13th Circuit Solicitor’s Office is probably going to prosecute the case on behalf of the State. These people are lawyers who are full-time prosecutors and may handle a variety of other criminal court matters other than DUIs. They have a very busy caseload, and it may take a long time for them to provide discovery (videos, reports, etc.) to me.
If your case is in one of the Municipal Courts, the city might have a full-time prosecutor who handles their DUI cases, or they might contract with an attorney in private practice to prosecute DUIs on a part-time basis. On the one hand, it can be difficult to make contact with part-time prosecutors, since they have busy practices outside their work with the city, and don’t always have easy access to the city’s files at their office. On the other hand, it’s always nice to be dealing with someone who understands what it’s like on the defense side of things – if they don’t have full-time prosecutor tunnel vision, they might be more willing to compromise on certain things or make offers that the full-time solicitors never would.
So far, I’ve had good experiences with all the prosecutors I’ve had to deal with in Greenville County. I won’t say I always see eye-to-eye with them, but I’ve usually found them to be reasonable and open to any suggestions I have about how to proceed with a case. But they rotate a lot, either by leaving the Solicitor’s Office for private practice, or transferring to a different assignment in their office. One time I had a case in West Greenville Summary Court that we were going to take to trial. For various reasons, the case had to be reset for different court dates a few times, and as a result, the prosecutor handling the case changed on us – twice. The first two prosecutors looked at the case and decided that they were not willing to offer a plea deal that we were willing to accept, but the third prosecutor ultimately was. Sometimes that’s just how it goes, and it seems to happen a fair amount with the Solicitor’s Office in Greenville. Because of that, I never feel like I’m at a disadvantage dealing with the prosecutors in Greenville – I might not be “local,” but it’s not like I’d be dealing with the same people for very long even if I was.
I’ve gotten successful results for lots of clients in the various courts throughout Greenville County, and I feel very much at home there. If you’d like to discuss your particular case in Greenville further, please give me a call at (864) 863-7174. You can also use my contact form, and I’ll get back with you as soon as possible.