FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS IN SOUTH CAROLINA CRIMINAL CASES

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What are my rights?

Click here to learn your “Constitutional Rights”

What should I do if I am being investigated by the police and/or received a target letter from the SC Attorney General’s Office?

Pre-Arrest Investigation / Target Letter

  • scale of justiceIf the police are investigating you for a crime or you have received a target letter from the Attorney General’s office, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your legal rights and options.
  • This is a critical time in your case because you have not been arrested and law enforcement is in the process of building its case against you.

Tested and proven criminal defense attorney Dayne Phillips provides free, confidential consultations to those who have been arrested in South Carolina and/or are being investigated by the police. Learn more about his long track record of successful criminal case dismissals and other notable cases.

What happens if I am arrested?

Arrested

  • The arresting officer will charge you with committing a felony and/or misdemeanor offense(s).
  • The arresting officer must inform you of the charge(s) for which you are being arrested.
  • The arresting officer must read the Miranda warnings to you before conducting a custodial interrogation (i.e., asking questions after you are in police custody).
  • At the police department, you will be fingerprinted and have your mugshot taken.

Bond Hearing

  • You are required to have a bond hearing within 24 hours of your arrest.
  • A Magistrate/Municipal judges usually preside over bond hearings.
  • The judge will evaluate two things: whether the bond will reasonably assure your appearance (i.e., prevent you from running away), and whether you are an unreasonable danger to the community.
  • The judge will set the amount and conditions of the bond.
  • If you violate any of the bond conditions, the judge may revoke your bond and put you back in jail.
  • The judge will inform you of whether your charge(s) are in General Sessions Court or Magistrate/Municipal Court and the date of your first scheduled court appearance.

Click here for answers to frequently asked questions about DUI cases in South Carolina.

What is the difference between General Sessions Court and Magistrate/Municipal Court?

General Sessions Court

  • Circuit Court judges preside over felony and misdemeanor cases.
  • Penalties range from a minimum of over 30 days and/or a $500 fine to a maximum of life imprisonment or the death penalty.
  • Circuit Court judges are licensed attorneys.

Magistrate/Municipal Courts

  • Only misdemeanor offenses.
  • Penalties range from 30 days or less (no more than 90 days for consecutive sentences) and/or a fine of up to $500
  • Magistrate/Municipal judges are not required to have a law license (i.e., be an attorney)

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor offense?

Felony

  • Crimes with a minimum penalty of one year in prison and a maximum of life imprisonment or the death penalty.
  • Numerous collateral consequences; for example, a person convicted of a felony is prohibited from possessing a gun or voting in an election.

Misdemeanor

  • Crimes with a minimum penalty of up to 30 days in jail to a maximum penalty of ten years in prison for certain common law offenses.

What happens after the bond hearing?

Preliminary Hearing

  • If you are charged with a case in General Sessions Court, you have the right to a preliminary hearing to challenge whether there was probable cause for your arrest.
  • You must request a preliminary hearing within 10 days of the bond hearing.

First Appearance

  • Your first scheduled court appearance (aka Roll Call).
  • This court appearance should be scheduled within 45 days of your arrest.
  • The procedure for this court date varies from county to county.
  • If you do not appear in court, a judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
  • Your lawyer will have the opportunity to speak with the solicitor about your case and will usually receive the discovery from the solicitor.

Second Appearance

  • The second scheduled court date to follow-up on the status of your case.
  • This court appearance should be scheduled within 120 days of arrest.
  • The procedure for this court date varies from county to county.
  • If you do not appear in court, a judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
  • You are supposed to have decided whether to accept the plea offer or proceed to trial. However, this also varies from county to county.

What is a Grand Jury and an indictment?

Grand Jury

  • A randomly selected group of people from the county where you were arrested who will decide whether there was probable to arrest you.
  • If the Grand Jury determines that there was probable cause for your arrest, they will issue an indictment.

Indictment

  • An indictment is the “charging document” that allows the solicitor to bring your case to trial.
  • A Grand Jury can also issue a direct indictment for alleged conduct that occurs prior to arrest.

Who decides whether I go to trial or plead guilty?

Critical Decision

  • You have a constitutional right to a jury trial.
  • The decision to plead guilty or proceed to trial is solely up to you.
  • Your attorney will advise you on what he/she believes is in your best interest, but the final decision is ultimately yours.

What is the difference between a trial and a guilty plea?

Trial

  • During the trial, the solicitor will present the State’s evidence against you and has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime charged in the indictment/warrant/ticket.
  • You have a constitutional right to cross-examine (question) the State’s witnesses.
  • You do not have to present any evidence because you are presumed innocent.
  • However, you do have a constitutional right to call witnesses on your behalf and to present favorable evidence.
  • The jurors are the judges of the facts in your case. In other words, they determine whether you are guilty of the crime based on the evidence presented at trial.
    • There are six jurors in Magistrate Court.
    • There are twelve jurors in General Sessions Court.
  • The presiding judge is the judge of the law in the case. In other words, he/she will determine the admissibility of evidence and instruct the jury on the law.
  • If the jury finds you guilty (convicted), your attorney will present mitigation evidence, and the judge will impose a sentence.

Guilty Plea

  • In a plea hearing, you will go before a judge and admit that you are guilty of the agreed upon charge by signing a sentencing sheet (depending upon the plea offer).
  • The solicitor will present a factual basis for your plea.
  • If the judge accepts that you have knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered the plea and that the facts presented by the solicitor satisfies the elements of the crime, the judge will then hear from your lawyer.
  • Your lawyer will present mitigation evidence on your behalf.
  • After hearing from the solicitor, your attorney, and possibly the victim, the judge will impose a sentence.

Do I have a right to appeal my guilty plea, jury verdict, or sentence?

Appeal

  • You have the right to appeal.
  • However, you have 10 days after the date of your sentence to file the notice of appeal.

DISCLAIMER:  This attorney profile does not create an attorney-client relationship.  The content of this website is only for informational purposes and does not constitute as legal advice.  Please note that the information on this website is not a description of the attorney’s quality of representation and is not a guarantee of a specific result.  Any result achieved on behalf a client in one matter should not create any expectation for future clients and does not necessarily indicate that similar results can be obtained for other clients.  If you have a legal problem, you should consult directly with a licensed attorney because every case is different and must be evaluated on its specific factual and legal issues.

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