Davis v. South Carolina Dept. of Public Safety, 2740

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Citation328 S.C. 578,493 S.E.2d 871
Docket NumberNo. 2740,2740
PartiesJackie Franklin DAVIS, Respondent, v. SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Appellant.
Decision Date03 September 1998

Page 871

493 S.E.2d 871
328 S.C. 578
Jackie Franklin DAVIS, Respondent,
v.
SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Appellant.
No. 2740.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Submitted Sept. 8, 1997.
Decided Oct. 21, 1997.
Rehearing Denied Dec. 17, 1997.
Certiorari Granted Sept. 3, 1998.

Page 872

[328 S.C. 580] Frank L. Valenta, Jr., General Counsel, and Patrick M. Teague, Associate General Counsel, both of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, Columbia, for appellant.

William H. Nicholson, III, of Nicholson & Anderson, Greenwood, for respondent.

STILWELL, Judge:

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety (Department) appeals from a circuit court order which determined that the plain meaning of the phrase "term of imprisonment" as used in the felony DUI statute 1 denotes "actual duration of the offender's incarceration." 2 Department also appeals the trial court's ruling that multiple convictions arising out of a single violation (such as when more than one individual is harmed by the conduct) of the felony DUI statute result in only one three-year suspension of Davis's driver's license. We affirm. 3

FACTS

On January 8, 1991, Davis pled guilty to two counts of felony DUI. Both of these counts, on separate indictments, involved one accident, which caused injury to two separate people. On each indictment, Davis was sentenced to five years, suspended on service of two years, a $5000 fine, and five years probation. The fine and sentence on both indictments were concurrent.

Davis completed his sentence of imprisonment on January 16, 1992, 4 and began probation, with an expiration date of [328 S.C. 581] January 15, 1997. Davis sought an order compelling Department to lift its suspension following his service of imprisonment and the subsequent

Page 873

three-year suspension. Department, however, contended the three years did not start running until the end of Davis's five-year sentence even though it was suspended. Furthermore, Department suspended the license for two consecutive periods of three years for each indictment for a total of an eleven-year suspension. The trial court determined that the three-year period of suspension ended on January 15, 1995, three years after Davis was released from imprisonment. The court determined that Davis's driver's license should have been suspended for a maximum period of three years over the term of imprisonment because, even though two people were injured, Davis committed only one driving offense.

LAW/DISCUSSION

I.

Department contends that the legislative intent under the felony DUI statute was to suspend the driver's license of anyone convicted under the statute for any term of imprisonment which means any prison sentence given. We disagree.

The statutory language at issue is as follows:

The department shall suspend the driver's license of any person who is convicted or who receives sentence upon a plea of guilty or nolo contendere pursuant to this section for a period to include any term of imprisonment plus three years.

S.C.Code Ann. § 56-5-2945(B) (Supp.1996) (emphasis added).

The construction of a statute by the agency charged with its administration will be accorded most respectful consideration[328 S.C. 582] and will not be overruled absent compelling reasons. Home Health Serv., Inc. v. South Carolina Tax Comm'n, 312 S.C. 324, 440 S.E.2d 375 (1994); Jasper County Tax Assessor v. Westvaco Corp., 305 S.C. 346, 409 S.E.2d 333 (1991). Such compelling reasons exist, however, if the agency's construction of the statute is clearly erroneous. Monroe v. Livingston, 251 S.C. 214, 217, 161 S.E.2d 243, 244 (1968) (finding an agency's consistent construction of a statute "affords no basis for the perpetuation of a patently erroneous application of the statute").

We believe Department's interpretation of "term of imprisonment" as including a suspended sentence, probation, or parole is clearly erroneous.

When statutory terms are clear and unambiguous, there is no room for construction and the terms must be applied according to their literal meaning. Carolina Power & Light Co. v. City of Bennettsville, 314 S.C. 137, 442 S.E.2d 177 (1994). We believe the phrase "term of imprisonment" clearly and unambiguously refers to physical incarceration and, therefore, the subsequent three-year suspension should begin when a defendant is released from incarceration in a correctional institution or similar facility. See State v. Wickenhauser, 309 S.C. 377, 423 S.E.2d 344 (1992) (term "imprisonment" as used in S.C.Code Ann. §...

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3 cases
  • State v. Grovenstein
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • June 1, 1999
    ......No. 24933. Supreme Court of South Carolina. Heard March 4, 1999. Decided June 1, ......
  • Thompson v. SC DEPT. OF PUBLIC SAFETY, 24937.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • April 19, 1999
    ...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 2......
  • Davis v. SC DEPT. OF PUBLIC SAFETY, 24938.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • April 19, 1999
    ...THE COURT OF APPEALS PER CURIAM: We granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals opinion in Davis v. South Carolina Department of Public Safety, 328 S.C. 578, 493 S.E.2d 871 (Ct.App.1997), Pursuant to Thompson v. South Carolina Department of Public Safety, 335 S.C. 52, 515 S.E.2d 761 (......

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