Things you should know…
If you are charged with a crime in South Carolina, it can be overwhelming and confusing, especially if it is your first experience with the criminal “justice” system.
Below, we have compiled answers to some of the more important questions that people have when they are charged with a crime and not sure what’s next, including information about:
- Your rights if you are under investigation or charged with a crime,
- Your court dates and the courts in which you may need to appear,
- What to expect if you plead guilty or go to trial, and
- What happens after a guilty plea or conviction.
Things you should know if you are charged with a crime in SC – your rights.
First, you should know what your rights are when you are under investigation or charged with a crime. Although this is not a complete list, the most important rights you need to be aware of include:
- The right to remain silent – if police or other state officials are trying to question you, stop talking. Tell them you want an attorney and do not answer any questions until you have the opportunity to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
- The right to not be searched or have your possessions seized without probable cause.
- The right to not be arrested or detained unless there is probable cause you have committed a crime.
- If you are charged in General Sessions Court, the right to a preliminary hearing where a magistrate will determine whether there was probable cause for your arrest.
- If you are charged with DUI, the right to an implied consent hearing where a hearing officer will determine whether your license suspension was justified.
- Bail/bond – you have the right to be released on bond unless you are charged with a capital offense, an offense punishable by life in prison, or a violent offense. You have the right to a personal recognizance bond unless the court finds that you are a flight risk or a danger to the community.
- The right to know what you are being accused of in detail.
- The right to a jury trial – and all the rights that come along with that, including the right to proof beyond any reasonable doubt, the right to testify, the right not to testify, and the right to confront (cross-examine) the witnesses against you.
- The right to see the evidence that will be used against you and to be notified of any exculpatory evidence in the state’s possession.
The Difference Between General Sessions, Magistrate, and Municipal Courts
More things you should know – what court is your case in? Where will you need to appear?
If you are charged with a minor offense that carries 30 days or less (there are many exceptions like driving under suspension and driving under the influence charges), your case will most likely be in the magistrate (if you were arrested outside of city limits) or municipal (if you were arrested within city limits) court.
If you are charged with a more serious offense that carries more than 30 days, your case will most likely be in General Sessions Court.
Read your paperwork carefully to determine where you will need to appear for your court dates and be aware that the procedures are different in different courts.
You have the right to be released on bond unless you are charged with a capital offense, an offense punishable by life in prison, or a violent offense. You have the right to a personal recognizance bond unless the court finds that you are a flight risk or a danger to the community.
In most cases, your initial bond hearing will be held within 24 hours of your arrest, and you can have an attorney represent you if you or your family gets in touch with an attorney in time to make the hearing.
If your bond is denied or set unreasonably high, your attorney may be able to get a second bond hearing to ask a circuit court judge to set or reduce your bond.
Your court dates will be found in the paperwork that you were given when you were arrested or released from jail. If you are charged with a blue uniform traffic ticket, the time, date, and location of your initial court date will be found on the blue ticket.
If you are charged in General Sessions Court, the time, date, and location of your initial appearances will be found on a separate document.
Bring all paperwork to your attorney immediately, stay in touch with your attorney, and make sure you know when your court dates are. If you miss your court date and your attorney did not get you excused, the court will issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
You may have several types of hearings before your case goes to trial, including:
- Your bond hearing,
- A preliminary hearing where a magistrate decides whether there was probable cause for your arrest,
- Initial appearances or docket appearances – roll call where you must appear and check in with the prosecutor unless your attorney gets you excused,
- An “arraignment” where the prosecutor makes you reject your plea offer on the record and tell the judge that you want a jury trial,
- Motion hearings – when your attorney or the prosecutor files a motion asking the court to decide an issue, the motion could be scheduled for a hearing separately from your trial, or the motion could be heard before your trial begins. Motion hearings could include motions to amend bond conditions, motions to dismiss, motions to compel discovery, motions to exclude evidence, or any issue that the court needs to decide before your trial begins, or
- Implied consent hearings in DUI cases.
Things you should know – when will your case go to trial? If your case is not resolved by dismissal, pretrial diversion, or a plea agreement, your case will go to trial.
When will it go to trial?
There is probably not going to be a set trial date for your case. In the lower courts, you will be noticed for a roster meeting or scheduling conference where they will try to “work out” your case. They will then put you on the trial roster, and your case might go to trial on the date they set, or it might “roll over” to the next term of court where you will do it again.
In General Sessions court, you will eventually be placed on the trial docket. Your case might go to trial at some point that week, or it might “roll over” to the next term of court – unless you have a “date certain” set by the court, it could take several terms of court before your case “catches” and is called for trial.
Indictments and the Grand Jury Process
You have the right to have your case indicted by a grand jury before your case is called for trial. Supposedly, a grand jury will look at all evidence in your case and make an informed decision as to whether there is sufficient probable cause for your case to proceed to trial.
The reality is an officer or prosecutor will “testify” by reading a one-paragraph summary of your charges, and the grand jury will indict you. I’ve heard many judges say, “The grand jury will indict a ham sandwich,” and this is true – it’s a meaningless, sham process that you have no control over in SC.
If You Are Charged With DUI
Things you should know if you are charged with DUI in SC – if you are charged with DUI and your license was suspended due to an implied consent violation, you have the right to an implied consent hearing, but you must request it within 30 days of your arrest.
Conviction and Sentencing
If you are convicted because you entered a guilty plea or a jury found you guilty, you will be sentenced by the court.
In SC, sentencing usually happens immediately after a conviction. Your sentence will be determined by the judge and could be based on negotiations between your attorney and the state, a recommended sentence from the state, or the judge’s discretion based on the facts of the case and mitigation presented by your attorney.
The Right to Appeal
You have the right to appeal any legal errors to the SC Court of Appeals, whether your conviction was through a guilty plea or a jury verdict.
Expungements and Pardons
Things you should know after a conviction in SC – following a conviction, you may have the right to get your record expunged.
If your record cannot be expunged, you may be eligible to apply for a pardon, asking the state of South Carolina to “forgive” your crime and restore your civil rights.
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, SC, and Myrtle Beach, SC
The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.