Criminal Law | Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you are charged with a crime?

  • Usually you will be taken into custody when you’re arrested. The police will photograph you and take your fingerprints. When the police begin to question you, they will read you your rights.
  • Remember that you have two important rights: the right to remain silent, and the right to a lawyer. Police may not ask you any more questions if you claim either or both these basic rights. You can claim these rights at the beginning of the questioning or at any time during the questioning.
  • To be released from custody after your arrest, you must post bail. In some cases, you can do this by a signature bond (a written promise to appear in court). In other cases, you may be required to provide either a secured surety bond (you put up property, such as a car or house), or cash (which may be posted by you or someone else).
  • If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, you may not be imprisoned for more than a year. Any “time” you serve will be in the county jail or house of correction. A felony charge is much more serious, because it can mean a year or more in prison. In either case, it is very wise to consult an attorney. If you cannot afford one, the judge will appoint an attorney for you.

What are the steps in a criminal case?

  • In either a misdemeanor or a felony case, you will have an initial appearance. At this appearance, you’ll be served with a criminal complaint that outlines the charge, the probable cause supporting the charge, and the penalty. In a misdemeanor case, you will also enter a plea “not guilty” and you will be given a trial date.
  • For a felony, the next step is the preliminary hearing. At this hearing, the prosecution must present enough evidence to convince the judge that you should stand trial for a felony offense. If it’s decided that your case will go to trial, you then attend an arraignment. At the arraignment, the district attorney will serve you with formal charges for a particular felony. At this time, you must enter a plea.
  • In both misdemeanor and felony cases, you have the right to a jury trial. The jury verdict must be unanimous.

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

  • Felony and misdemeanor are legal terms describing the seriousness of a crime.
  • A felony is a very serious crime. Felonies generally carry long prison sentences of a year or more. Examples of a felony are attempted murder and cocaine trafficking.
  • A misdemeanor is a less serious crime. Misdemeanors carry shorter prison sentences. Examples of misdemeanor crimes include simple possession of marijuana, simple assault and battery, and tampering with an electric meter.
  • South Carolina law classifies crimes as felonies and others as misdemeanors. Title 16 of the South Carolina Code contains a list of felonies and misdemeanors.

What is a bench warrant?

  • A Bench Warrant is an arrest warrant issued from “the bench”, in other words from a judge. It is generally issued by a magistrate or circuit court judge for failing to appear in court. It can be extremely difficult to get a loved one out of jail if they are incarcerated on a bench warrant. The government sometimes will try to ignore your case if you are incarcerated on a bench warrant because they know it is difficult to obtain your release. You need a skilled and knowledgeable attorney to make sure your loved one spends as little time as possible while incarcerated on a bench warrant. It is all too easy to spend far too much time in jail waiting for a court appearance in this situation. You need an aggressive and dedicated lawyer to make sure you or your loved one does not fall through the cracks and spend wasted time waiting for the government to deal with your case. Our lawyers know how to file the appropriate motions to move your case forward and to get your case resolved. Contact our law firm today for a consultation.

What is a bond hearing?

  • Our attorneys regularly represent people at bond hearings or preliminary hearings. A bond hearing is when a magistrate or circuit court judge sets an amount of money that the person must put up in order to be released from jail pending trial. It is important to have an attorney early in order to receive a favorable bond hearing and fight for a reasonable bond so that you or your loved one will not have to stay in jail awaiting trial. If you or a loved one is arrested, call our office as soon as possible to have representation at your bail hearing.

What is a personal recognizance bond?

  • When released on a personal recognizance bond, a defendant gives the court his word that he will show up to future court dates. The defendant also acknowledges a debt to the court equal to the total amount of the bond. If the defendant breaks the conditions of his bond, he owes the debt to the Court, and the judge may revoke his bond and return him to jail.
  • In normal circumstances, courts release defendants on personal recognizance bonds before trial. However, if the bonding court determines that the defendant might skip court appearances or cause unreasonable danger to the community, it will not release the defendant on a personal recognizance bond. Judges have a choice in making this determination.

What is a Surety Bond?

  • A surety is someone who guarantees the court that a defendant will appear at Court and obey bond conditions. Bail bondsmen are the most common sureties. Bail bondsmen are licensed by the state and have standing lines of credit with the courts. They charge fees for their services, generally requiring an initial payment totaling 10-15% of the overall bond amount.
  • Family members or other individuals also act as sureties. An individual can secure the release of a defendant by depositing the entire amount of the bond with the court or by pledging property to the Court as collateral.
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