The vast majority of criminal cases settle before court. We tell all clients that a good criminal defense lawyer has to be perfectly willing and prepared to go to trial in case. You cannot possibly get the deal you want, if you are not ready to go to trial. Prosecutors and police know when a lawyer is ready or not.
What Is the Criminal Process After An Arrest In South Carolina?
Each county and each magistrate’s district and each town court do things a little bit differently. Once you are arrested, you are going to have a bond hearing pretty quickly, usually within twenty-four hours. If it is a summary court charge (magistrate or municipal) and you do not have any kind of record, you are probably going to get a Personal Recognizance Bond, or a PR Bond. That means you don’t have to pay money to get out but you still have to show up to your next appearance date. Most bonds are set by the municipal court judge if you are arrested in a city limit, or a magistrate court judge if you are arrested outside the city limits.
If you do not get a PR bond, you will be given the option to get a bondsman who will charge a certain percent and there is also an option to pay 10 percent into the court. We always tell people to take the 10 percent offer from the court, because if you are not convicted, you will get that money back. If you go through a bondsman, you are paying for his services so you will not be getting that money back at all. Although often a lot of people do not have a choice because they do not have 10 percent to pay into the court.
The main reason we tell people to go with the court option, is if, for example, if you get charged with a DUI, and let’s say there is a $1000.00 bond, if you go to a bondsman you pay that money out for nothing. If you went through the court and you pay the 10% you get the money back.
After the bond is paid, you will generally be released from jail fairly quickly the next day. You are given an appearance date. If it is general sessions charge, you must attend your appearance date and you cannot get a continuance. At that point, if you have not already hired a lawyer, they are going tell you that you need to get one. This appearance is basically a roll call and there is not usually a judge present at this time. They will then give you another date to come back based on how serious the charges are and how long they think it is going to take for the prosecutor to make a case.
At the second appearance, your attorney should have received the discovery, or the evidence against you, and the prosecutor will usually make a plea offer. Customarily you have a certain amount of time to take that plea offer. Your lawyer negotiates back and forth with the prosecutor based on her evaluation of the discovery. At some point, they set the date for you to either agree to the plea or if you and your attorney do not want to take that offer, your case will then be set for trial.
Generally, time is your friend because officers leave the department or witnesses lose interest in the case or go away. We do not really mind it when a case sits on the docket, as long as our client is not sitting in jail. We have had cases pending for trial for over three years in general sessions.
In state court in South Carolina, probably two percent of the cases actually go to trial and once you get a trial, they go pretty quickly. Even a murder trial will usually not last more than a week here. The judge will go ahead and sentence you immediately if you are convicted. Following a conviction, there is an appeals process.
In terms of summary court, they give you an appearance on your ticket that they give you. That is normally a point where you can either plead guilty or ask for a jury or bench trial. If you ask for a trial, they will give you another court date. In some municipalities and counties, like the city of Columbia they can be quite backlogged. We have had cases pending there for a couple of years. As long as my client is not really anxious to get it resolved, time is generally your friend.
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