What Can I Expect from the Criminal Defense Process?
Providing an Aggressive Defense Against Your Charges
Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we want to help you understand what to expect in the months following
a criminal charge. By understanding the South Carolina court processes
relevant to your case, you can ensure that you remain in the best position
possible to have your charges favorably resolved.
Pre-Arrest Police Investigation
Some individuals are fortunate enough to know in advance that they are
under investigation by law enforcement. This may come in the form of being
accused of breaking the law, or by being contacted directly by the police.
We recommend that anyone at this stage of the process remain silent, and
not talk about the situation with their accuser, other individuals or
law enforcement. Everything said can and will be used against them later on.
After someone is arrested the police will transport them to the local detention
center or jail. They will first be booked in. This will involve being
fingerprinted, having a mug shot taken, and being evaluated by jail medical
staff. Usually within 24 hours they will be taken to Bond Court to appear
in front of a Magistrate judge. The purpose of Bond Court is to determine
if they will be allowed to be released from jail while the charges are
pending. The judge will set any conditions on this release, usually involving
the posting of a cash deposit with the court and other conditions such
as to avoid contact with the alleged victim. The deposit, called bond,
can also be posted with the assistance of a bail bondsman.
Money paid to a bail bondsman is kept by them as their fee, even if the
defendant goes to court as required. Money that is paid directly into
the court is returned as long as the defendant fully complies with all
the conditions of their bond. Defendants all have the right to be represented
by an attorney in Bond Court. A lawyer can help pursued the judge to set
a lower bond, which may save a significant amount of fees in the event
that a bail bondsman is used to post the deposit with the court. In serious
felony cases it is almost always a good idea to retain an attorney to
appear on the Defendant's behalf at bond court. Our attorneys are
available to appear in Bond Court anywhere in South Carolina, even in
Defendants who have cases pending in General Sessions are eligible to request
a preliminary hearing. This must be done within ten days of the Bone Court
date. A preliminary hearing is a probable cause hearing conducted in front
of a magistrate judge. The judge will determine if it is more likely than
not that a crime occurred, and more likely than not that the defendant
is the one responsible. Not all lawyers request preliminary hearings for
their clients, or actually go if a hearing is scheduled.
Although in some cases there may be a good reason to waive the preliminary
hearing, in most cases we believe that our client's interests are
best served by having a true adversarial hearing where a genuine challenge
is made to the charges facing our client. For this reason if we are timely
retained we will submit the request for the preliminary hearing and will
represent our client at such hearing as part of our standard defense services.
At the end of the preliminary hearing the judge can either allow the charges
to continue to General Sessions for prosecution, modify them, or dismiss
the case for lack of evidence.
Defendants who have cases prosecuted in General Sessions will be given
a first court appearance at Bond Court. This is called a first appearance
in most counties. At the first appearance they defendant will check in
with the prosecutor's office, and then will be given a date to return
called a follow up appearance. An initial appearance is also called a
First Appearance. The initial appearance is not a hearing date or a trial
date. Defendants will not be appearing in front of a judge, and will not
be required to enter a plea or explain the circumstances of their arrest.
Everyone charged with a General Sessions offense should have retainer a
lawyer prior to their initial appearance date. Usually the initial appearance
can be handled in 30-45 minutes. In some counties defendants can avoid
having to go to their initial appearance if they have retained a lawyer.
Appearances cannot currently be waived in Lexington or Richland Counties,
but this may be possible in Spartanburg or Charleston.
Magistrate \ Municipal Court Procedures
Misdemeanor cases prosecuted in Magistrate or Municipal Courts are handled
differently than those in General Sessions. The initial date provided
in Bond Court or written on a ticket is a trial date. Defendants who appear
in court on that date are going to be expected to either plead guilty,
or face a trial by the judge (called a bench trial) right away. In most
all cases we do not believe that our clients should plead guilty or face
a bench trial at their initial court date.
By doing so defendants give up important legal rights, including the right
to pre-trial discovery, and many other
criminal defense techniques that can help result in a more favorable outcome to the charges.
Typically we will notify the court and prosecutor on our client's
behalf in advance of their court date that we are contesting and challenging
the charges. This will result in the first court date being cancelled.
Our client will not be required to appear. This procedure is authorized
by the South Carolina Supreme Court, and is approved by every bail bondsman.
At the same time we file the notice of a contested case, will also file
motions related to pre-trial discovery to obtain the evidence against
our client. We also may file motions seeking to suppress (or disallow)
evidence against our client such as drugs discovered by improper law enforcement
techniques. The next event is usually a pre-trial conference, held months
after the initial "bench trial date." Here, without the threat
of an imminent trial, we can discuss having the case resolved with the
prosecutor such as a dismissal, plea bargain, or referral into pre-trial
intervention (PTI). Otherwise the case can be scheduled later for a full trial.
All defendants in South Carolina who are charged with any criminal or traffic
offense are entitled to a fully contested trial. We normally try all criminal
cases in front of a jury. All jurors must unanimously determine the verdict.
There are twelve jurors in General Sessions cases and six in Magistrate
or Municipal Court cases. Cases are not normally scheduled for trial for
several months or more after the initial arrest. Defendants have numerous
important rights at their trial, and in fact have more rights than the
prosecutor or the judge. One of the roles of a defense attorney during
the trial is to ensure that those rights are enforced, and that the court
and the jury are given reasons why the charges should either be dismissed
or a not-guilty verdict should be returned.
There are numerous other parts of the process that we can review with you
during your initial consultation. These include:
Pre-Trial Discovery – How we obtain the prosecutor's evidence in advance of trial
and use it to prepare an effective defense
Negotiations – In some cases it can be possible to negotiate a reduction in charges
or sentence, to avoid having to go to trial.
Preliminary Motions – There can be occasions where it is necessary to have additional
court hearings related to legal issues that can arise during a case. This
might include motions to reduce bond, to resolve discovery disputes with
the prosecutor, enforce subpoenas issued, or to suppress evidence against
Appeals – Anyone convicted of a crime in South Carolina has a right to appeal.
This right pertains to all types of charges, from simple traffic infractions
to major felonies. We can discuss this right, including appeals in Federal
Court if necessary.
Contact Us Today
As you can see, there are many steps involved in defending a South Carolina
criminal charge. By taking advantage of the legal procedures available
you can position your case in the way to give you the best chance at a
favorable outcome. Delays in seeking legal representation can sometimes
result in lost opportunities that can lead to unfair and unjust results.
We offer free initial consultations to anyone under investigation for
or charged with a criminal offense in South Carolina. To schedule your
contact our office today. Although we are located in downtown Lexington, we accept cases throughout
South Carolina including Greenville, Spartanburg, Charleston and Columbia.