If you have a prior DUI, then the penalties go up considerably for the second one. It moves from Summary Court to the Court of General Sessions, which is a more serious court. If you have prior shoplifting or drug offenses on your record, those would be used to enhance your minor charge to a much more serious offense; particularly if it is the same type of crime. It is always easier to get a deal for a client who does not have any convictions. However, there are things that can be done to help all clients, no matter how bad their situation is. It is one reason we tell people, do not just plead guilty because it is only a $600 fine, for example. If you get arrested again, it will be much worse.
Are Alternative Programs Available For First Time Offenders In South Carolina?
We do not have a first offense diversion programs for DUI in South Carolina, However, in general, if we cannot get the case to significantly decrease, we aim to get it dropped to a traffic offense rather than a criminal offense, such as reckless driving. With reckless driving that is going to show up on your driving record, not on your criminal record. Also with drug offenses, there are numerous diversion programs such as drug court and counseling alternatives.
There is also pretrial intervention. Unfortunately, in Summary Court people who are unrepresented are often talked into going into pre-trial intervention for very minor charges like public drunkenness.
When I hear that I always cringe because a PTI can only be used once. Once you use it, it is gone. It can be used for some pretty serious charges, such as burglary so we hate to see people blow it on a disorderly conduct. You only get one in your lifetime. We have such an increase in over criminalization of offenses in America that both conservatives and liberals are recognizing it as a serious problem. People can get arrested for seemingly innocent conduct so you need to save that PTI option. You may think you are never going to get in trouble again, but anyone of us could be arrested, whether it is making a mistake in our financial records, or cursing someone on the telephone. For example, there was a guy who left his dog in a car with the window cracked, while he ran into Lowe’s. The tape showed that he was in there for around seven minutes but he was arrested for cruelty to animals, which is a general sessions charge. Most of us love animals and we understand why we have laws to protect them, but that was just overreaching of the law. The dog was never in any kind of danger because it was not hot, and the man had just run into Lowe’s. In another case, a lady was sentenced to jail because she did could not pay a fine and her crime was feeding stray cats, which is a violation of an ordinance in a small town. The purpose of the law was to not encourage stray cats. This old cat lady did not have money for the fine and ended up going to jail. Again it is an overreach of the law.
The point is you never know when you could get charged with something and need to have PTI as an option.
What Sets You Apart In Handling Criminal Defense Cases?
I pride myself on being empathetic and not judging my clients. No matter how bad the crime is that they are charged with, I try to think of what happened in their life to make them get there and I put myself in their shoes as much as I can. My clients and their families certainly appreciate that empathy. Also that empathy and compassion makes me fight harder. I am not just going to plead this case because it will be cheaper and it can save me money and time. We are able to see to see people as real people.
I am constantly amazed at the way some lawyers talk to their clients. I hate to say it, but we are graduating way too many law students and a lot of them can’t get jobs. They hang out a shingle and think they are going to get rich doing criminal defense, which is very difficult to do. They do not have the passion that a good criminal defense lawyer has for knowing the constitution and making sure that people, even when they are guilty, have their rights protected.
If you are the kind of person that cannot see that and cannot look at it from other people’s perspectives, then I do not even know how you can be a criminal defense lawyer.
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