When a minor is accused of a crime in SC, their case is tried in the “juvenile court,” which is part of SC’s family court – the same court where divorces and child custody matters are decided.
The process for juvenile court in SC is very different than the procedure when an adult is charged in the magistrate court or General Sessions Court – how does juvenile court work and what happens when a child is arrested and accused of a crime in SC?
In this article, we will discuss the basics of juvenile court in SC, including:
- The procedure after a minor is arrested,
- How long a minor can be held in pretrial detention,
- When a minor can be tried in adult court,
- How adjudication and sentencing work in juvenile court, and
- The constitutional rights that children have in SC courts.
What is the Procedure for Juvenile Court When a Minor is Arrested?
The procedure for the arrest of a minor in SC is found in SC Code § 63-19-810. First, the code takes care to say, “the taking into custody is not an arrest” (odd, since “arrest” could be defined as “taking into custody”).
“Unless otherwise ordered by the court,” the officer taking the child into custody should notify the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child and release the child to their guardian upon the guardian’s written promise to bring the child back to court.
The juvenile court solicitor will then have a petition prepared that will be the “charging document” for the child’s case.
Detention Hearings in Juvenile Court
Any child who is not released within 48 hours must have a detention hearing in the family court within 48 hours, where the Department of Juvenile Justice and the circuit solicitor will present their recommendations as to continued detention and information about the facts of the case, and the child’s attorney can argue for the child’s release to an appropriate caregiver if one is available.
If the child is not released, SC Code § 63-19-830 says that he or she is entitled to another detention hearing within 10 days after the first detention hearing, thirty days after the ten-day hearing, and at any other time if good cause is shown.
Juvenile Court or Adult Court?
The general rule is that any minor under the age of 18 must be tried in the family court, but there are exceptions found in SC Code § 63-19-1210, including:
- A child 17 years of age or older charged with a misdemeanor or class E or F felony that carries ten years or less, or
- A child 14-16 years of age charged with a Class A, B, C, or D felony or any felony that carries 15 years or more.
In some cases, we can get the child’s case sent back to the family court in the court’s discretion. In other cases, the child’s case must be heard in adult court (and, in some cases, we may want the child’s case to be heard in adult court where they will get the benefit of a jury trial and a circuit court judge who is familiar with criminal laws and criminal procedures).
Pretrial Diversion Programs for Juveniles
The Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office has three pretrial diversion programs that are available for juvenile offenders:
- The Juvenile Arbitration Program,
- The CHANGE Program, and
- The Juvenile Diversion Program.
Adjudication and Sentencing in Juvenile Court in SC
If a child “pleads guilty” or is found guilty in juvenile court, the code is careful to not use the words “guilty” or “guilty plea” – they have been “adjudicated delinquent.”
In most cases, the court will not immediately sentence a juvenile after they have been adjudicated delinquent. Instead, the court will order an evaluation, which may be done while the child is living at home or at an evaluation center, and then the child will return to court for their sentencing hearing.
DJJ will make sentencing recommendations based on the findings of the child’s evaluation, DSS might make additional recommendations as to the child’s placement, the solicitor’s office will make their recommendations (which will usually agree with DSS’s recommendations), the child’s defense attorney will make their recommendations, and the court may hear from a guardian ad litem as well.
The possible outcomes after a child has been adjudicated delinquent in the family court could include:
- A fine,
- Probation with conditions that may include counseling and other recommendations based on the child’s evaluation, or
- Incarceration at a juvenile facility for a set period of time or for an indeterminate period of time up to the child’s 21st birthday.
What Rights do Children Have When They are Accused of a Crime?
Do children have constitutional rights?
Sometimes they do, but other times they don’t.
For example, children in SC do not have the right to a jury trial. If a minor chooses to take their case to trial in the family court, their case will be decided by a family court judge (who ordinarily decides divorces and property disputes between divorcing couples with a different standard of proof than “beyond any reasonable doubt”) and not a jury.
Minors in SC do retain most of their constitutional rights, however, including:
- The right to a trial (a bench trial not a jury trial),
- The right to call witnesses to testify in their defense,
- The right to subpoena witnesses and evidence,
- The right to remain silent,
- The right to testify in their defense,
- The right to challenge unconstitutional searches or seizures, and
- The right to proof beyond any reasonable doubt at their trial.
SC Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyers in Myrtle Beach, SC
If your child has been taken into custody and charged with a crime, whether it is in the family court or adult court, they need effective and experienced representation immediately.
Call now at (843) 488-5000 or send us an email to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.