A magistrate is a type of judge – depending on the context, it could mean a judge with a law degree who is authorized to handle serious matters in the federal court, or it could mean a non-lawyer judge who is only permitted to handle “small” cases in the state courts.
Below, we will discuss what types of crimes are handled in SC’s magistrate courts, when you can get a jury trial in the magistrate court in SC, and how the magistrate court is different than other SC courts.
If you have been charged with a crime in the Horry County magistrate court, contact a Myrtle Beach criminal defense attorney immediately to find out what your options are and what your next steps are to maximize your chance of getting a dismissal, acquittal, or pretrial diversion.
What is the Magistrate Court in SC?
In SC courts, a magistrate is not required to have a law degree – although magistrates receive some legal training from SC Court Administration and they receive plenty of “on the job training” once they take the bench, many have never practiced law, represented a client, or attended a law school (on the other hand, some magistrates are also attorneys).
Magistrate court in SC includes both criminal and civil cases, although we will only be discussing the “criminal side” of the magistrate court in this article. Whether the case is criminal or civil, however, there are limits on the types of cases that can be heard in the magistrate court.
To further complicate things, there are many magistrate courts within Horry County, including “specialized” magistrate courts for jury trials, domestic violence cases, and preliminary hearings.
What Types of Crimes are in the Magistrate Court in SC?
Magistrate courts in SC are authorized to set bond for most crimes (even General Sessions cases), preside over preliminary hearings for General Sessions cases, issue search warrants and arrest warrants, and hear certain types of criminal cases.
SC Code Section 22-3-550 says that magistrates in SC can hear any criminal case where the punishment does not exceed 30 days and a $500 fine. In most cases, a magistrate also cannot sentence a person to consecutive (back-to-back) jail sentences that total more than 90 days:
A) Magistrates have jurisdiction of all offenses which may be subject to the penalties of a fine or forfeiture not exceeding five hundred dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding thirty days, or both…
(B) However, a magistrate does not have the power to sentence a person to consecutive terms of imprisonment totaling more than ninety days except for convictions resulting from violations of Chapter 11, Title 34, pertaining to fraudulent checks, or violations of Section 16-13-110(B)(1), relating to shoplifting. Further, a magistrate must specify an amount of restitution in damages at the time of sentencing as an alternative to any imprisonment of more than ninety days which is lawfully imposed.
Although some statutes specifically authorize magistrates to hear criminal cases where the punishment may exceed 30 days (DUS, for example), most cases that are punishable by more than 30 days in jail will be heard in SC’s General Sessions Court.
The most common criminal offenses that are heard in magistrate court in SC include:
- Traffic offenses, including speeding, driving under suspension, driving without a license, and every kind of traffic ticket that does not carry more than 30 days as a potential penalty (with some exceptions);
- Assault and battery 3rd degree – any assault and battery case that is more serious than 3rd degree will be heard in General Sessions Court;
- Domestic violence 3rd degree – domestic violence cases that are more serious than 3rd degree will be heard in General Sessions Court;
- Shoplifting offenses < $2000, but not property crime enhancements (which carry up to ten years in prison);
- Simple possession of marijuana;
- First offense DUI and DUAC charges;
- Public intoxication;
- Disorderly conduct;
- Breach of peace, and
- Petit larceny, possession of stolen goods < $2000, breach of trust < $2000, and other property crimes where the potential punishment is 30 days in jail or less.
Am I Entitled to a Jury Trial in Magistrate Court in SC?
You are entitled to a jury trial for any criminal accusation in SC, even in the magistrate court, including DUI’s and minor traffic offenses like speeding.
Unlike General Sessions Court, however, you must request a jury trial in writing in the magistrate (and municipal) courts. In most cases, once you request a jury trial, your initial court date will change and your attorney will be notified when your case appears on the trial roster (or when it is scheduled for a pretrial conference).
How is Municipal Court Different from Magistrate Court in SC?
The municipal court in SC is the “city court.” Within Horry County, these include the municipal courts for the City of Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, and Conway, SC.
Although SC’s municipal courts also mostly handle criminal cases that are punishable by no more than 30 days in jail, the difference is the “territorial jurisdiction.” Whereas magistrate court in SC has jurisdiction over any case that arises in the county, the municipal courts only have jurisdiction over cases that arise within city limits.
The procedure for the magistrate or municipal courts tends to be similar, although each court has its quirks. You must request a jury trial in writing, at which time your initial court date will be canceled. Then, your attorney will be notified when your case is scheduled for a “roster meeting” or “pretrial conference,” where the prosecutor (and sometimes judge) will discuss the case with your attorney.
If the case is not resolved at your roster meeting, the court will set a jury trial date.
Which Court Hears DUI Charges?
All of the courts discussed above hear DUI cases – magistrate, municipal, and General Sessions.
First offense DUI’s and DUAC’s are heard in either the magistrate or municipal court, depending on where the offense occurred, while DUI or DUAC second offense or greater and felony DUI is heard in General Sessions Court.
Criminal Defense Attorneys in Myrtle Beach, SC
If you have been charged with a crime in the municipal or magistrate court in SC, you should contact a magistrate court criminal defense lawyer immediately – before the initial court date that was given to you on your ticket or at your bond hearing. You may have options that can keep your record clean, whether it’s a negotiated dismissal of your case, a jury trial in the magistrate court, or a pretrial diversion program.
Call Coastal Law now to schedule a free case consultation by calling (843) 488-5000 or by contacting us through our website.