Most of us have had an encounter with law enforcement at one point or another. For the most common encounters like speeding tickets or parking violations, the police will likely let you go with a ticket or a warning. When brushes with the law are more serious, however, you may end up getting arrested. If this happens, you’ll have a lot of questions racing through your mind: What are my rights? Do they have to take me to jail? Should I try to explain my side of the story? What happens after an arrest? The best thing you can do if you’re placed under arrest is remain calm and cooperate with the arresting officers. Do not answer questions about the accusations, and only tell the officer that you would like an attorney. While this is easier said than done, knowing what to expect after an arrest can help you get through it.
What are Your Rights During and After an Arrest?
You have certain rights you’re entitled to when you’re being arrested. These rights also dictate what a police officer can or can’t do while arresting you.
Do I Have a Right Not to be Arrested if There is No Arrest Warrant?
A police officer may arrest you with or without a warrant, depending on the situation. If the officer witnesses the crime, or if they have probable cause, they don’t need to wait for a judge to issue a warrant. For example, if the police came to your home on a noise complaint and saw you punching your neighbor in the face, they wouldn’t need a warrant because they witnessed the crime taking place. Or, if you get pulled over for driving erratically and the officer decides that you are under the influence, the officer will take you to jail without an arrest warrant. SC law also authorizes certain offenses, including a DUI 1st offense, to be charged with a blue ticket and no arrest warrant will be issued at all.
What are Miranda Rights?
Police officers are not required to read Miranda warnings, also known as Miranda rights, when making an arrest. This is the most commonly misunderstood constitutional right, and it is the one that clients ask about the most often. Miranda warnings, named after the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, are intended to protect suspects from abusive or coercive questioning. Police usually do not read the Miranda warnings to you when they arrest you, and they are not required to. They are required to read Miranda warnings to you if they intend to question you. If they do not read the Miranda warnings, then 1) any statements that you make 2) while in custody 3) in response to questioning 4) by law enforcement can be suppressed at trial. Another situation where SC officers must read Miranda warnings is during a DUI arrest. Because SC DUI laws require officers to read Miranda warnings to a suspect on camera, if they fail to do so your case can be dismissed as a result. No other type of case will be dismissed for an officer’s failure to read Miranda rights, but any statements that you made can be suppressed at trial (the jury will not hear them). In South Carolina, if an officer intends to question you or arrest you for a DUI offense, they must inform you that:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything that you say can be used against you in court.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
Police Searches in SC
If an officer has probable cause, or in some situations a reasonable suspicion, of criminal activity, the officer can search your vehicle or even your person without a search warrant. If you have been arrested, the police can then search your person “incident to arrest,” without a search warrant. In some situations, police can also search your vehicle “incident to arrest,” but only when there is a likelihood that evidence of the crime that you are being arrested for will be present. If you have been arrested following a traffic stop and your vehicle is not parked legally (i.e. you are on the side of the road where the officer pulled you over), police may also be able to search your car as an “inventory search.” The idea is that your car is going to be searched by the towing company anyway to inventory its contents. Because the search is inevitable, police are allowed to go ahead and do it. In general, police are not allowed to search your residence, workplace, or hotel room after they arrest you unless they also have a search warrant. One exception to this is what is called a “protective sweep,” which allows officers to make a quick inspection of the premises, not to search for evidence of crime but to make sure there are no threats to the officers’ safety.
What if I think my rights were violated?
If you think your rights have been violated, above all, stay calm and don’t try to fight the officers or cause a scene. There will be a time for everything to be addressed and handled lawfully. Your best bet is to contact an attorney to help you as soon as possible.
The Booking Process in SC
After your arrest, you’ll be taken to the police station or county jail and booked. The booking process creates an official arrest record and can take several hours. The typical booking process includes:
- Recording your name and the crime you’ve been arrested for
- Taking a mugshot
- Taking fingerprints
- Surrendering your clothing and personal belongings for evidence or to be held until your release
- Full body search
- Check for outstanding warrants in your name
- Health screening
- Background and demographic information about you
What are my rights during booking?
At any point in the booking process, you have the right to not answer questions or to ask for an attorney. If you waive these rights or make statements, it’s important to understand that anything you say can be used against you once you get to court. During the booking process, think “name, rank, and serial number.” You should answer questions about who you are, where you live, and what your contact information is. You should not answer any questions about the allegations against you and you should not engage in “small talk.” An officer can’t legally force you or threaten you to admit guilt. They also don’t have the power to make promises to help you in court. Your best bet is to contact an attorney and let them advise you before you make any statements or answer any questions.
Bail and Bond in SC
Getting out of jail will probably be the first thing on your mind, and bail (or bond) allows you to do so. Within 24-48 hours, you will usually have a bail hearing. It is important to contact an attorney immediately to help you at this hearing. A judge will listen to the facts of your case and decide whether or not you can be released from jail along with the financial cost of such release. If you can, you’ll have to provide bail. Bail is money or property you provide to ensure you will show up in court for your hearing. The judge sets this amount, which can be paid by you, a relative, friend, or professional bondsman (which require a fee). Bond hearings are not the time to argue your case. You should not make any statements or answer any questions about your charges at your bond hearing – the proceeding is solely to determine whether you are a flight risk or a risk to the community and to set a bail amount that will ensure your return to court. While you’re out on bond, you must comply with the bail conditions the judge sets. Additionally, you must show up to court on the date assigned. Failure to appear in court will result in the judge issuing a warrant for your arrest.
What SC Court Will Hear My Case?
The court you will go to depends on the crime you have been charged with and where you were charged. In South Carolina, criminal charges are dealt with in 3 different courts: General Sessions Court, Magistrate Court, and Municipal Court. The paperwork that you receive either in bond court or upon your release will tell you what court you must appear in and when you must appear. If you are charged with an offense that carries a potential sentence of more than 30 days, your case will most likely be in General Sessions Court although there are several exceptions to the rule. If you are charged with an offense that carries a potential sentence of 30 days or less, your case will most likely be in the magistrate or municipal court. If you were arrested within city limits, your case will be in the municipal court, and if you were arrested outside of city limits, your case will be in the magistrate court (county). Keep in mind that you may have several court appearances in different courts. Although some counties will combine magistrate and General Sessions level offenses in one General Sessions court case, many other counties, including Horry County, will separate the two and you will need to appear in both courts.
What Type of Court Appearances Will I Have in SC?
Your first court appearance will usually be your bail hearing. After the bond hearing, the type of court appearances you have will depend on which court you are charged in:
Magistrate and Municipal Courts
When you are charged with a crime in the magistrate or municipal court, you will be given a “trial date” that you are required to attend. When you retain a Myrtle Beach defense lawyer, your attorney may request a jury trial – once a jury trial has been requested, that initial court date is gone and you no longer have to appear. Your case will then be placed on the “jury trial roster,” and the next court appearance will most likely be a “roster meeting” or “pretrial conference,” depending on which court. At the roster meeting or pretrial conference, your case may be settled or, more likely, a jury trial date will be scheduled. On the scheduled jury trial date, your case may be resolved, it may be continued, or it could go to trial.
General Sessions Court
In General Sessions Court, your only court appearances at first will be what attorneys call “roll call,” or “cattle call.” Roll call in Horry County is not really court at all – there will not be a hearing or any proceedings on the record, and it is at best an opportunity for the prosecutor to:
- Ensure that you have not skipped town;
- Ensure that you have an attorney;
- Find out from your attorney whether your case will be a plea or trial; and
- Bench warrant you if you do not appear.
Prosecutors do not like the phrase “roll call.” They like “cattle call” even less. Different counties now insist that we use euphemisms for “cattle call,” like “first appearance,” “second appearance,” or “docket appearance.” The first court appearance allows the judge to address any administrative concerns. Specifically, he or she will decide whether to put your case on a 180-day or 365-day track. More serious crimes that require complicated evidence, extensive witnesses, or expert testimony are put on the 365-day track. If you have an attorney, they may be able to get you excused from this court appearance – stay in contact with your attorney and be sure that you are excused. If there is any doubt, show up at the First Appearance to ensure that you do not get bench warranted. If you don’t have an attorney, it’s very important that you attend; otherwise, you’ll be arrested and may have to remain in jail until your trial or plea.
Here, you will inform the court whether you are going to plea or go to trial. Keep in mind that this decision is not set in stone; you or the prosecution can change your mind later. Like the first court appearance, make sure you attend unless you have an attorney and you are sure that you have been excused from attending.
Guilty or Not Guilty—Pleading in Court
At some point after receiving and reviewing the evidence against you, you must decide whether to plead guilty or to ask for a jury trial.
When you plead guilty, you are admitting guilt to the crime you’ve been charged with. This may come as a result of plea bargaining, which takes place between your attorney and your prosecutor. To avoid trial, a prosecutor may offer reduced charges, a specific sentencing recommendation, or other concessions to get you to plead guilty. If you decide to enter a guilty plea, the fight turns to sentencing rather than guilt or innocence. Your attorney will have the opportunity to speak to the judge and even to present witnesses and evidence that impact the judge’s decision as to what your sentence should be. The court will ask you questions to ensure that you understand your constitutional rights and that you are waiving those rights when you enter a plea of guilty. Any alleged victims have the right to be present, to speak, and to make recommendations to the court before you are sentenced.
If you plead not guilty, you are telling the court that you want a trial. In most cases, a jury trial. There may be other court dates that are scheduled before your trial begins such as court dates to hear motions that your attorney has filed or arraignments where the prosecutor and court try to force you to plead guilty. If you stick to your guns and demand a trial, your case will be put on the trial roster, but it may or may not be called for trial. If they do not get to your trial during a particular week of court, your case could move to the next trial roster and this could happen many times before you are able to pick a jury and try your case.
I Just Got Arrested, Now What?
Your Myrtle Beach criminal defense attorney at Coastal Law, LLC, will help you to get a reasonable bond set, investigate your case, obtain the evidence in your case, help you to build your defense, negotiate with prosecutors, and try your case to a jury. If you’ve been arrested and aren’t sure what to do next, dial (843) 488-5000, or use this form. We’ll be glad to answer your questions so you can make an informed decision.