While the criminal justice system in the United States extends a presumption of innocence to anyone charged with a crime, those facing impaired driving or driving under the influence (DUI) charges often don’t receive the benefit of the doubt from their peers or people in the criminal justice system.

There is an inaccurate perception among many people that faulty DUI arrests simply do not occur. Between sobriety tests conducted in the field by police officers and chemical testing units, it seems as though there is plenty of evidence in most impaired driving cases to make them relatively open and shut.

However, officers can mistake medical conditions or anxiety for impairment. Lack of training or improper calibration of a breath test unit could also result in evidence that isn’t as valid as the public perceives it to be. Although you likely worry about the professional impact of going to court over a DUI charge, fighting even a first-time DUI allegation is important.

First-time charges mean you’ll face higher penalties next time

A first DUI charge in South Carolina can result in up to 30 days in prison and up to $400 in fines. A second offense could mean between five days and a year in jail, as well as up to $5,100 in fines.

Although you clearly don’t want to make a habit of impaired driving arrests, you can’t ignore the fact that a first conviction puts you at substantially increased risk for worse penalties if something similar happens to you in a few months or a couple of years.

Even if you avoid prison, a guilty plea could affect your job or education

Once you have a criminal conviction on your record, your opportunities for employment, education and housing will become greatly reduced. Even if you currently have a great job, your employer may have a zero-tolerance policy for criminal records. You could lose your job or at least the ability to secure raises and promotions in the future.

Future employers will likely scrutinize you carefully based on the fact that you have a criminal record, even if impaired driving isn’t nearly as concerning for a prospective employer as embezzlement may be. Colleges may choose not to admit you if they discover your criminal record, while students already attending college or graduate school may find that they lose their enrollment or their financial aid as a result of their guilty plea.

Losing your license can make life incredibly difficult

When you plead guilty to a DUI charge in South Carolina, in addition to the criminal penalties, there are civil consequences. Those consequences include the loss of your driver’s license for six months for a first DUI offense.

During that time, you will need to either secure other forms of transportation, such as public transportation, ride-sharing services or carpooling, which may not be very reliable, or you will need to apply for a hardship license that will allow you to perform the bare minimum of daily driving to continue your employment and care for your family. Defending against the charges and retaining your license will make your life simpler and protect you from the fallout of losing your license.