If you have been charged with a crime in SC, you may be feeling overwhelmed – confused, frightened, angry, or just lost.
What should you do? First, get a criminal defense lawyer on your case who can, hopefully, get your case dismissed, win your case at trial, or help you to avoid the worst of the possible consequences.
Then, learn about your charges, the potential consequences, the court procedure that applies to your case, and what you can do to either avoid a conviction or minimize the consequences. In this article, we will go over the basics of what you can expect if you have been charged with a crime in SC, including:
- What to expect if you are charged with a crime in SC,
- The stages of a criminal case in magistrate or municipal courts in SC, and
- The stages of a criminal case in General Sessions Court in SC.
What to Expect if You are Charged with a Crime in SC
You will need to know what’s next – assuming you can bond out of jail, when and where do you need to appear? Will there be hearings or court dates before your trial?
It is critical that you 1) know the dates of your court appearances and 2) stay in close contact with your attorney, because, if you miss a court date, your prosecutor will get a bench warrant for your arrest and your bond may be revoked…
The procedure for your case will depend on whether your charges are magistrate-level misdemeanors or General Sessions-level offenses and where the arrest happened.
Stages of a Criminal Case in Magistrate or Municipal Court
What should you expect if you are charged with a crime in the magistrate court or the municipal court?
If you are charged with a crime that carries 30 days or less as a potential punishment (there are some exceptions like driving under suspension charges), your case will be heard in either the magistrate court or the municipal (city) court depending on whether you were arrested in the county or within city limits.
In either case, there are some critical stages of your case – and court appearances – that you need to be aware of, including:
Soon after your arrest – usually within 24 hours – you will have a bond hearing where the court will either release you on your own recognizance or set a bond amount that you must pay before you can be released.
Initial court dates
On your blue ticket, or on your paperwork given to you at your bond hearing if you do not have a blue ticket, there will be an initial court date and the location of the court where you will need to appear.
If you have multiple charges, you could have more than one court date – check each ticket and the paperwork for each charge to be sure you are not missing anything.
If you do not appear on your initial court date (and you or your attorney has not requested a jury trial), the judge may find you guilty in your absence and sentence you…
Jury trial requests
Your attorney might appear for you on your initial court date to attempt to resolve your charges, or your attorney might request a jury trial before your initial court date. Once a jury trial has been requested, you do not need to appear at the initial court date and your attorney will be notified when a roster meeting or pretrial conference has been scheduled.
Discovery, investigation, and trial preparation
Your attorney will most likely file a “discovery motion” asking the prosecutor or officer to provide you with all evidence that they intend to use against you as well as exculpatory evidence under Brady v. Maryland.
Your attorney may also conduct an independent investigation – interviewing witnesses and gathering information through other means like FOIA requests or subpoenas (although you cannot issue subpoenas in most magistrate or municipal court cases other than DUI charges).
Roster meetings and pretrial conferences
At your roster meeting or pretrial conference, your attorney may attempt to negotiate a plea deal or dismissal, and, if your case is not resolved, the court will set a jury trial date.
If your case is not dismissed or if the case cannot be worked out in a way that satisfies you and the prosecutor, a trial date will be set. In the lower courts, you will get six jurors instead of 12, but the procedure is mostly the same as it would be in General Sessions Court – pretrial motions, jury selection, opening statements, state’s case, defendant’s case, closing arguments, and jury deliberations.
Stages of a Criminal Case in General Sessions Court
What should you expect if you are charged with a crime in General Sessions Court? The procedure is different than it would be in the magistrate court – for example, you do not need to file a written jury trial request with the court as you would in the magistrate court.
Although a circuit court judge must hear your case, a magistrate will set your bond, either releasing you on your own recognizance, setting a bond amount that must be paid before you can be released, or denying your bond.
For some charges (murder, for example), a circuit court judge must set your bond which means you or your attorney should immediately file a motion in the circuit court to set bond and get a hearing scheduled.
You will have two initial court dates at which you must appear – in most cases, this is not a formal hearing with a judge presiding. It’s just “checking in” with the prosecutor, who may discuss plea negotiations and discovery issues with your attorney.
You might be excused from these initial roll call dates (and later roll call dates where the prosecutor asks you to come to court and check in), but you must appear unless your attorney has confirmed that you are excused. If you miss roll call and you have not been excused, the prosecutor will get a bench warrant for your arrest.
If you are charged in General Sessions Court in SC, you have the right to a preliminary hearing where a magistrate judge will hear testimony from the officer and decide whether there was probable cause for your arrest.
Discovery, Investigation, Pretrial Hearings, Trial Preparation
While your case is pending, your attorney may:
- File discovery motions and motions to compel discovery,
- Issue subpoenas or FOIA requests for information,
- Interview witnesses, and
- Use expert consultants as needed to assist in preparing your case for a possible trial.
Depending on the issues in your case, hearings may be scheduled to resolve discovery issues, reduce your bond, or resolve evidentiary issues before trial.
If your case has not been dismissed or resolved, it will be placed on the trial docket. It could be placed on the trial docket many times, keeping you in limbo until your case “catches.”
As with the lower courts, the main stages of trial include pretrial motions, jury selection, opening statements, state’s case, defendant’s case, closing arguments, and jury deliberations.
If you are convicted, you can file an appeal (to the Court of Appeals if it was a General Sessions Trial or to the Court of Common Pleas (circuit court) if it was a magistrate or municipal court trial) or a post-conviction relief petition based on ineffective assistance of counsel.
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Myrtle Beach, SC
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Horry County, Georgetown County, or the surrounding area, the Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyers at Coastal Law may be able to help you.
Call Coastal Law now to schedule a free case consultation by calling (843) 488-5000 or by contacting us through our website.