What To Expect When You’re Arrested in SC
Getting arrested is often one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of a person’s life–especially if you’ve never been arrested before. Your mind may be racing with snippets of TV show arrests, stories from the news and questions about what’s going to happen next.
The best thing to do in this situation is to take a deep breath and cooperate with the officer. Remember, the officer has weapons and a need to feel in control of the situation. Challenging them will likely make matters worse. Simply remain silent until you’ve had an opportunity to connect with your attorney.
If you believe you’re being treated unfairly or wrongfully arrested, stay calm. Keep in mind that you’ll have an opportunity later to get everything sorted out.
While you can’t control the criminal justice process, simply educating yourself and knowing what to expect is empowering.
Here is what to expect throughout the criminal process, from the arrest to the final disposition.
In most cases, police need an arrest warrant to make an arrest. A judge has to issue the arrest warrant based on documents such as indictments, complaints, informations or petitions that accuse a person of a crime. The police then execute the warrant by arresting the named person and taking them into custody.
Some arrests, however, happen without warrants. These “warrantless arrests” occur in a few different scenarios. For example, if an officer has probable cause to believe a crime has taken place and there time to get a warrant. The same is true if an officer witnesses a crime being committed; they can make an arrest without a warrant.
Understanding your Miranda rights
You have the right to remain silent…
Miranda warnings are the part of the arrest process everybody knows thanks to crime dramas on primetime TV. The police are required to read the Miranda rights before questioning you. If they don’t, anything you say (plus any evidence obtained during the arrest) could end up excluded from the trial. Failure to give a Miranda warning does not automatically indicate the arrest is invalid, however.
There are certain investigation guidelines police have to follow after an arrest. For example, if you tell them you want to remain silent, they have to stop questioning you. Police must also honor your request for an attorney.
When you’re arrested with a warrant, you should be taken in front of a judge or magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest. If you’re arrested without a warrant, that timeframe can vary–up to 48 hours–because the police need time to do the paperwork associated with the arrest. Other administrative tasks, like fingerprinting and checking for outstanding warrants also take place during this timeframe.
After the arrest: Booking
After your arrest, you’ll be taken to jail or a detention center for processing. When you’re booked in jail, you’ll be fingerprinted and have your mugshot photo taken.
Your clothing and belongings will be taken for safe-keeping or put into evidence. You’ll be given a jumpsuit and shoes to wear. At some point, you will have a chance to make your proverbial one phone call.
Where will my case be heard?
What is “General Sessions” in the criminal case process?
In South Carolina, the Circuit Courts are divided into two divisions:
- General Sessions, or criminal court.
- Common Pleas, or civil court.
The General Sessions Court handles criminal cases for misdemeanors and felonies with penalties ranging from 30 days in jail or a $500 fine all the way up to the death penalty. The Magistrate and Municipal Court handles only misdemeanor cases with lesser penalties.
The criminal justice process is not fast. Your case isn’t going to be resolved quickly like cases on TV or in the movies. Most cases go up for trial six months after the arrest takes place. More serious cases can take up to a year after the arrest date.
The slow pace is usually a good thing for the accused, although it can be frustrating to have your future hanging in the balance. The police will use this time to investigate and gather evidence, and your lawyer will use this time to build a strong defense.
Within 48 hours of your arrest, you will get a bond hearing, which is sometimes called a bail hearing. Certain criminal charges, such as those punishable by life in prison or the death penalty, are not eligible for bail. Also, some charges require a Circuit Court Judge to set bail.
At this hearing, a bond judge will listen to the facts of your case and decide whether or not you get to be released from jail while you await trial. The main factors to be considered are whether you are a danger to the community or a flight risk.
A bond hearing can take a while, because all defendants who have been arrested are brought to the courtroom. Everyone has to wait their turn to be called up in front of the judge.
Through the discovery process, your criminal defense lawyer will file a motion with the court that forces law enforcement officers and the state solicitor to hand over copies of all the evidence against you. This is good, because some of that evidence could be used to help your defense. Preliminary hearings, or probable cause hearings, may also be requested prior to your case being indicted and offer a good opportunity to hear the preliminary evidence against you.
Your first court appearance.
At your first court appearance, the judge will handle administrative concerns. The most important thing that will be decided is whether your case will be on the 180-day or 365-day track.
Cases that are extremely serious, such as murder and child molestation, are typically set on the 365-day track. Since those types of cases involve more complex evidence, the longer timeline is usually a good thing for the defendant.
If you don’t have a lawyer, you must attend or you’ll be rearrested. In that scenario, you could have to stay in jail until your trial or plea.
Your second court appearance?
The purpose of this court appearance is to inform the court whether you are going to plea or go to trial. Either the defense or prosecution can change their minds about this decision later.
Just like the first court appearance, you don’t have to attend the second appearance if you have an attorney. If you don’t have a lawyer, then you must attend. The solicitor will often provide you a notice to return to ensure attendance.
The final disposition?
Although final disposition can happen at any point in the criminal court process, the most likely timeframe is after the second court appearance.
In South Carolina General Sessions, criminal cases are disposed in some basic ways.
- Dismissal. It is rare for the state to drop charges, but it does happen–usually with the help of an experienced defense attorney.
- Pre-Trial Intervention(PTI) or other diversionary program. This is sometimes an option for first-time offenders which permits them to complete an intervention program. If PTI is successfully completed, then the case is dismissed and the charges are erased.
- Guilty Plea. This is how most cases are resolved. What frequently happens is that the defendant admits to reduced charges in exchange for having more serious charges dropped.
You’re not alone in this.
Navigating the criminal process is confusing and frightening. You need someone who knows their way around SC Law to guide you through the process. An experienced attorney can help you reach the best destination at the end of this road.
Are you facing criminal charges in Columbia, SC or surrounding areas? Would you like to speak with an criminal defense attorney about your situation?
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Contact Lori Murray to discuss your situation.
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