When someone experiences a criminal arrest and charge, the resulting consequences can be both frustrating and life-altering, depending on the specifics of the situation. While it is true that many criminal defense cases begin with an actual arrest by law enforcement officers, some defendants actually are made aware that they are the subject of criminal investigation before any arrest is ever made. This occurs when law enforcement officers show up to the individual’s work or home, requesting certain information or asking questions. Typically during these conversations, law enforcement reveals that the person is the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation. If you find yourself under this uncomfortable scenario, you should contact a skilled South Carolina criminal defense lawyer right away to prepare for the possibility of charges being filed against you.
The Arrest & Bond Hearing
Many are familiar with the basics of an arrest: you hands are placed in handcuffs, your Miranda rights are read outloud to you, and then you are transported to the police station and booked. The booking process includes having your fingerprints done, having your photo (or mugshot) taken, and likely being inspected by a medical staff personnel at the jail. Once you have been booked, you will eventually be transferred to bond court. This transfer typically happens within 24 hours of completing your booking. Once you have been moved to bond court, you will face a court appearance before a Magistrate judge. A bond hearing has a very specific purpose – it is for the Magistrate judge to decide whether or not you should be released from jail while criminal charges are pending against you. During the bond hearing the Magistrate judge will review some of the evidence that has been brought against you. He or she will also hear arguments from your defense lawyer and the government’s lawyer supporting or going against whether you should be released from jail.
It is important to know that an accused has the right to legal representation at a bond hearing. This is the case whether you are in South Carolina or another state in the U.S. It is crucial to take advantage of this right. This is because a skilled South Carolina criminal defense lawyer can advocate on your behalf and possibly persuade a Magistrate judge to lower the bond amount or release you without having to pay a bond at all. When you are released without having to pay a bond it is referred to as being released on your own recognizance. This result can save you money and time on your South Carolina criminal case. A bond is a deposit paid to be released from jail. The bond fee can either be paid directly to the court or by a bail bondsman. If you pay your own bond, this fee is refunded once you have fulfilled the obligations that were part and parcel of your release on bond. If a bail bondsman puts up the fee, the fee that you or your family pays is about 10 to 15 percent of the face value of the court’s bond amount. The bail bondsman keeps the fee that you or your family paid, even if you attend all court dates as required by your release on bond. If you fail to attend any of your court-ordered hearings, the bondsman will likely go after you – or whomever paid the bondsman’s fee – to try to recuperate the money owed.
Your Preliminary Hearing
Like many others across the United States, South Carolina criminal defendants have a right to a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is an essential but often times overlooked part of the criminal process. Under state law, a preliminary hearing must be requested within 10 days of a bond hearing if not this hearing is waived. The reason why a preliminary hearing is so important to someone accused of breaking South Carolina law is because the hearing requires the prosecution to prove before a judge that probable cause existed to justify your arrest (as well as the criminal charges). A preliminary hearing also gives the accused the first opportunity to contest the case before a judge. At the end of the preliminary hearing, the presiding judge will determine if the government should move forward with the charges, if the charges should be changed at all, or if the case should be dismissed altogether.
Similar to civil cases, the vast majority of criminal court cases end due to negotiations. Negotiation is an essential component of any criminal case and often ends in what is known as a plea bargain. A plea bargain is when prosecutors and the criminal defense attorney agree to a conviction and sentence rather than facing the uncertainty of going forward with a jury or bench trial. Typically the agreement includes defense counsel negotiating down to a lesser charge and the prosecutor securing a conviction. While not always the best option, plea bargaining can take the risk out of the system and may be a good choice for some criminal defendants.
Trying the Criminal Case
Before reaching the trial phase of a criminal defense case, there are several phases of the case that occur pre-trial. This includes initial hearings with prosecutors, attending pre-trial conferences, and engaging in extensive investigation and discovery exchanges. Once these preliminary matters have been addressed by the parties, the case will be set for trial. Trial is typically scheduled several months after an accused was initially arrested on criminal charges.
If you are facing a criminal trial, you have the right to have a jury trial or a bench trial. A bench trial consists of a judge who will hear the facts of the case and decide whether or not to convict and sentence you. A jury trial, on the other hand, allows for a jury of the defendant’s peers to render a decision. While a bench trial may be advantageous in some circumstances, many criminal defendants prefer to choose a jury trial. Of note, South Carolina’s General Sessions Court has 12 jurors. The state’s magistrate and municipal court cases, on the other hand, involve a jury of only six.
During trial, each side puts forth arguments regarding your guilt or innocence based on the facts of the case and the applicable law. The prosecution always goes first, with the defense following. After arguments, witness testimony, and closing statements have been heard the case is decided by the judge or – in the case of a jury trial – handed over to the jury for a decision. If there is an acquittal – or a “not guilty” finding – the lawsuit is finished and you will immediately be released from custody. If the decision is a guilty verdict, your criminal defense lawyer may appeal the decision to a higher court. An appeal grants you the opportunity to fight to prove your innocence before a higher court.
It is important to note that a judge or jury may decide on your guilt or innocence at trial, but there is a separate and distinct sentencing phase presided over by judges that determines the appropriate punishment when a guilty verdict is put forth. While the sentence typically falls within range listed in the sentencing guidelines from South Carolina’s criminal law, it is imposed at the discretion of the presiding judge.
Greenville Criminal Defense Help
Whether you are under criminal investigation, have already been arrested, or are seeking to appeal a criminal conviction, it is critical that you begin working with an experienced criminal defense attorney in South Carolina who can protect your rights. Contact the Law Office of H. Chase Harbin today for a free consultation.