Every criminal defendant has a right to be present at the trial of their case. What happens when the trial begins and they are not there?

The trial can go forward without you if the state can prove that you had notice of:

1) The date and time of your trial; and

2) The fact that you will be tried in their absence if you do not appear.

There could be many reasons why a person misses their trial date, but it is usually the result of confusion either on your part or on the part of the court staff. Depending on what courts you were charged in, you may have multiple documents that sometimes list multiple court dates, and it is easy to become confused over which court you need to be in on which dates.

The best way to make sure that you are not tried in your absence is to retain counsel early on in your case and to stay in regular contact with your attorney. If your contact information changes, call us immediately and make sure that our information is updated.

How do I Know My Court Date in Horry County?

It depends on which court you are in. The process is similar statewide, but I will use Horry County courts as an example. First, your bond paperwork most likely contains a statement that you will be tried in your absence if you do not appear. The prosecutor will use this as evidence that you were notified if the prosecutor decides to call the case for trial in your absence.

If you are in the magistrate courts or the municipal courts for Myrtle Beach, Conway, or Surfside Beach, you will also be given a court date for a bench trial. The paperwork containing that court date may be the prosecutor’s evidence that you were notified of the date and time of the trial. Once you have requested a jury trial, however, that court date is gone and you are not required to appear in court until another trial date is set. There will be one or more roster meetings that we attend for you to set the new trial date.

If you are in General Sessions Court, you will be given two “roll call” dates where you are required to appear in court. You are not given a trial date when you are arrested. You won’t be given a trial date at roll call. When the solicitor decides to try your case, they will put you on a trial roster. If your case is not called for trial during that week, they may or may not put you on the next trial roster. Rinse and repeat until the case is resolved or the prosecutor finally calls it for trial.

Can I Get My Case Reopened if I Missed My Court Date?

In State v. Wrapp, decided this week by the S.C. Court of Appeals, the Court reversed convictions for driving under suspension (DUS) and trafficking in crack cocaine following a trial in absence because the state did not offer evidence of the defendant’s notice to appear and the judge did not make the required findings that the defendant had been notified.

Maybe the defendant was noticed to be there and noticed that the trial would proceed without him. Maybe not. The prosecutor did not enter the notice documents into the record, and the judge did not make specific findings that the defendant had received notice.

Prior appellate opinions dealing with trials in absence include:

  • State v. Jackson, 288 S.C. 94, 341 S.E.2d 375 (1986): The Court must find that the defendant: 1) received notice of their right to be present and 2) that a warning was given that the trial would proceed in his or her absence upon failure to attend court.
  • State v. Ritch, 292 S.C. 75, 354 S.E.2d 909 (1987): A one paragraph opinion reversing the conviction because the notice and warning required by Jackson were not given.
  • City of Aiken v. Koontz, 368 S.C. 542, 629 S.E.2d 686 (S.C.App. 2006): The conviction was affirmed because Koontz was notified of his trial date and signed a form stating that he understood that if he was not present the trial would proceed in his absence. Koontz’s attorney testified that he had informed his client of the date of trial.
  • State v. Fairey, 374 S.C. 92, 646 S.E.2d 445 (S.C.App. 2007): The conviction was affirmed because notice of the trial date was sent to the pro-se defendant although he argued it was not sent to the proper address. The defendant had also signed a bond form acknowledging that, if he failed to attend court, he would be tried in his absence.

I Missed My Court Date, What Now?

Your criminal defense lawyer at Coastal Law, LLC, will do everything possible to ensure that you know when and where to appear in court.

If you have missed a court date in SC and have a bench warrant for your arrest, or if you have been found guilty in your absence, we will help to get your case reopened if it is possible. You can schedule a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case by calling (843) 488-5000 or filling out our online form.

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