THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
John Tyler Thompson, Respondent,
Department of Public
IT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF
Appeal From Greenville County
J. Ernest Kinard, Jr., Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 24937
Heard January 21, 1999 - Filed April 19, 1999
William L. Todd, Senior Assistant General Counsel,
and Frank L. Valenta, Jr., General Counsel, both of
South Carolina Department of Public Safety, of
Columbia, for petitioner.
Robert C. Childs, III, of Mitchell, Bouton, Duggan,
Yokel & Childs, of Greenville, for respondent.
FINNEY, C.J.: This is an action to construe the mandatory
THOMPSON v. SCDPS
driver's license suspension portion of the felony driving under the influence
(felony DUI) statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2945 (Supp. 1998). The Court of
Appeals held the statutory three year suspension period following "any term
of imprisonment" commenced when respondent was released from prison and
began serving his probationary sentence, and that where, as here, a
defendant has multiple felony DUI convictions arising out of a single
accident, the legislature intended that he receive a single three year
suspension. Thompson v. South Carolina Dep't of Public Safety, Op. No. 97
UP-552 (S.C. Ct. App. filed October 21, 1997). We granted certiorari, and
Respondent was convicted of three counts of felony DUI causing
great bodily harm arising out of a single accident. He received two
consecutive Youthful Offender Act sentences not to exceed six years, and a
concurrent ten year sentence suspended on five years probation. The
probationary sentence was to begin after service of the Youthful Offender Act
sentences. On May 28, 1993, respondent was released from prison and
began serving his five year probationary sentence. The Department notified
him that his license would remain suspended until May 28, 2007: the five
year probationary period, followed by three consecutive three year statutory
Respondent then brought this declaratory judgment action to
construe the mandatory driver's license suspension portion of § 56-5-2945.
The circuit court upheld the Department's interpretation, but the Court of
Appeals reversed. We granted certiorari to decide two issues:
(1) Whether the Court of Appeals
erred in holding the phrase "term
1 In addition to this case, the Court of Appeals filed three other opinions
involving these issues on October 21, 1997: Caraway v. South Carolina Dep't
of Public Safety, Op. No. 97-UP-553 (S.C. Ct. App. filed October 21, 1997);
Davis v. South Carolina Dep't of Public Safety 328 S.C. 578, 493 S.E.2d 871
(Ct. App. 1997); and Williams v. South Carolina Dep't of Public Safety, Op.
No. 97-UP-554 (S.C. Ct. App. filed October 21, 1997). The Department
sought certiorari only in this case and Davis and we granted both petitions.
For the reasons given in this opinion, we now overrule Davis.
THOMPSON v. SCDPS
of imprisonment" in § 56-5-2945
means only the actual period of
incarceration ?; and
(2) Whether the Court of Appeals
erred in holding the Department
could not impose consecutive three
year suspensions where multiple
felony DUI convictions arise out of
a single accident?
We find both issues were incorrectly decided by the Court of Appeals, and
A. "Term of Imprisonment"
The felony DUI statute provides in pertinent part:
The department shall suspend the
driver's license of any person who is
convicted or receives sentence upon a
plea of guilty or nolo contendre pursuant
to the [felony DUI1 section for a period
to include any term of imprisonment
plus three years.
S. C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2945 (emphasis added).
The phrase "Term of imprisonment" has a well-established meaning in South
Carolina criminal law. It is a type of criminal sentence, as distinguished
from a "fine", which is a monetary sanction. See, e.g., Jackson v. State,
S.C. 489 S.E.2d 915 (1997).
In sentencing, a trial judge may impose a term of years but
"provide for a suspension of a part of such imprisonment, and the placing of
the defendant on probation after serving a designated portion of the term of
imprisonment." Moore v. Patterson, 203 S.C. 90, 26 S.E.2d 319 (1943).
Probation, a suspension of the period of incarceration, is clearly part of a
criminal defendant's "term of imprisonment", as is actual incarceration,
parole, and the suspended portion of a sentence, e.g., Mims v. State, 273 S.C.
THOMPSON v. SCDPS
740, 259 S.E.2d 602 (1979); Sanders v. MacDougall, 244 S.C. 160, 135 S.E.2d
836 (1964), or "supervised furlough." Crooks v. State, 326 S.C. 171, 485
S.E.2d 374 (1997).
"Term of imprisonment" as used in § 56-5-2945 means the non
fine part of criminal sentence, and includes suspended portions, probation or
parole periods, and supervised furlough. The Court of Appeals' decision
limiting the meaning of the phrase to the period of actual incarceration is
B. Period of Suspension
The Court of Appeals held that respondent committed a single
offense resulting in harm to more than one person. It found the legislature
failed to anticipate this type of situation when it mandated license
suspensions, and construed the statute to allow only a single three year
suspension when a felony DUI defendant has only one accident, regardless of
the number of persons injured or killed. The Department argues this was
error. We agree.
First, it is simply incorrect to assert that respondent committed
only a single offense - he committed only one type of offense. More
importantly, the relevant event in the statute triggering the suspension is
'conviction', not offense or accident. Respondent has three convictions
"pursuant to" § 56-5-2945, and under the plain language of the statute faces
three three year suspensions.
Further, unlike the Court of Appeals, we find the legislature did
consider the possibility that a defendant could injure multiple victims
because the statute specifies that the driver's license suspension is
mandatory upon conviction or plea. Had the legislature intended for the
suspensions to be dependent upon something other than the number of
convictions, the legislature would have made the operative event the
'accident' or 'incident.' The statute is silent, however, as to the Department's
authority to run the suspensions consecutively.
In Bay v. South Carolina Highway Dep't, 266 S.C. 9, 221 S.E.2d
106 (1975), appellant was convicted of reckless homicide and leaving the
scene of an accident, both convictions arising out of a single accident. Each
THOMPSON v. SCDPS
conviction carried a mandatory license suspension, and we held that the
Department was authorized to impose these suspensions consecutively,
noting: (1) nothing in the statute required the Department to make the
suspensions concurrent; (2) that the fact appellant's criminal sentences ran
concurrently was irrelevant to these civil suspensions; and (3) "There is
nothing to indicate that [Bay] is entitled to be rewarded by having the
periods of suspension run concurrently simply because he committed two
offenses within a very short period of each other." Id.
While Bay is not dispositive of the issue here, we adopt its
reasoning. First, the felony DUI statute does not require concurrent
suspensions. Second, we do not believe respondent is entitled to be rewarded
by concurrent suspension s simply because he fortuitously seriously injured
three people in one accident rather than injuring each in a separate accident.
It is within the Department's authority to run the mandatory license
suspensions under the felony DUI statute consecutively. The Court of
Appeals' holding to the contrary is reversed.
For these reasons, the decision of the Court of Appeals is
TOAL, MOORE, WALLER, and BURNETT, JJ., concur.