Choosing a Criminal Defense Lawyer
The services of a criminal defense lawyer should be be sought if you or someone you know has been arrested and charged with a crime in South Carolina you’re likely confused and worried about your future. You can alleviate those worries through education and obtaining the services of a good criminal defense lawyer. By learning more about the criminal justice system you can begin to feel empowered, rather than afraid. To find out more about how South Carolina’s criminal system works, keep reading.
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Criminal Defense Lawyer – Step by Step
Criminal Defense Lawyer – the Law and the Process:
Though many criminal defense cases begin with an arrest, in some cases defendants find out prior to being arrested that they are subjects of a criminal investigation. Police officers might show up to ask questions or request certain information, revealing that an individual is the focus of an ongoing investigation. If this happens, it’s a good idea to consider retaining a South Carolina criminal defense Lawyer as soon as possible so that preparations can be made just in case charges are eventually filed.
Everyone knows what an arrest is. You get put in handcuffs, read your rights, and are taken to a police station to go through the booking process. During booking, you will have your fingerprints done, a mug shot taken and likely be inspected by medical staff at the jail. After the booking process is complete you will eventually be transferred to Bond Court, something that typically happens within 24 hours of booking.
Once a suspect has been moved to Bond Court, he or she now must face an appearance before a judge, known as a Magistrate Judge. The point of a bond hearing is to decide whether the judge believes you should be released from jail while your criminal charges are pending. The judge will usually get a glimpse of the evidence against you and arguments from both your criminal defense lawyer and prosecutors about whether you should be released from jail, and if so, how high your bond should be set.
Suspects have the right to an attorney during a bond hearing and it is crucial to take advantage of this opportunity to meet with and rely on an experienced South Carolina criminal defense lawyer. A good lawyer can work to persuade a judge to either lower your bond or release you without having to pay any bond (on your own recognizance), something that can save you a lot of money in the end.
How does bond work?
The deposit paid to be released from jail is called a bond and it can either be paid directly to the court, in which case it is refunded once the defendant has fulfilled the obligations of his or her bond, or by a bail bondsman. If the money is put up a bail bondsman, the company will typically charge between 10 and 15 percent of the face value of the bond as a fee. The bondsman will keep this money, even if you go to court as required. If you fail you attend your hearings as scheduled, then the bondsman will likely come after you as it is the only way for them to get their money back.
Defendants in South Carolina have the right to a preliminary hearing, an important but sometimes overlooked step in the criminal justice system. A criminal defense lawyer should recommend doing this in most cases. Preliminary hearings in South Carolina must be requested within 10 days of the bond hearing, something that demonstrates how important it is to move quickly when hiring a local criminal defense attorney. These preliminary hearings can be very useful, as it requires the prosecution to prove before a judge that there was probable cause to justify your arrest and subsequent criminal charges. This provides defendants the first opportunity to truly contest their case in an adversarial setting. At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide whether the charges should be allowed to continue, should be modified or whether the case should simply be dismissed.
Though there’s a lot of talk about the trial process, the reality is that the vast majority of criminal court cases end in a plea bargain. Negotiation is actually a critical component of any criminal case and it pays to have a South Carolina criminal defense lawyer with experience handling such plea-bargaining.
Plea-bargaining is a process whereby prosecutors and the criminal defense lawyer agree to a conviction and a sentence rather than face the uncertainty of a trial. Both sides get something out of the deal; defendants usually negotiate down to lesser charges while prosecutors secure guaranteed convictions. This takes the risk out of the system and can be a good thing for many criminal defendants.
Before actually reaching the trial phase, there are several important matters that must be attended to first. Defendants attend initial hearings with prosecutors, pretrial conferences and must engage in extensive investigation and discovery exchanges. Once all these preliminary matters are attended to, the case eventually gets set for trial, usually many months after the defendant’s initial arrest.
Defendants facing trial can choose to undergo a jury trial or what’s known as a bench trial. In a bench trial, the judge will hear and decide the case. Though this might be advantageous in some circumstances, many people choose to have a jury trial, preferring a group of their peers to decide the matter. In South Carolina General Sessions Court, there are 12 jurors, while magistrate and municipal court cases involve six jurors.
During the trial, each side puts forward its arguments regarding the guilt or innocence of the defendant. In every case, the prosecution goes first and the defense follows last. When the arguments and witnesses and closing statements are all over, the case will be handed over to the jury to render a verdict. If the jury decides to acquit the defendant, then the matter is done and you will be released from custody. If the jury decides that the defendant is guilty, even though it may seem like the end, the reality is that the criminal defense lawyer can appeal the case. The appeals process exists to grant defendants additional opportunities to fight for their innocence.
Though the jury decides your guilt or innocence, a separate sentencing phase is conducted by judges to determine the length of your punishment. The sentence imposed is at the discretion of the judge and usually falls somewhere between the ranges outlined under South Carolina criminal law.
The good news is that anyone who loses his or her case at the trial level has the right to appeal. Your criminal defense lawyer should be the type of attorney that to move quickly at this stage to ensure you preserve all possible avenues for appealing your conviction. The appeal marks an entirely separate phase of the criminal process and can take months or even years to conclude. During this phase, it is likely the suspect will remain in jail. Sometimes, depending on the criminal defense lawyer, in some cases (not all), the person may be released pending the appeal. This may require the added assurance of home confinement and/or electronic monitoring.
Now that we’ve talked through the basics of the South Carolina criminal process, let’s walk through some other important points about the criminal justice system.
Anyone who has ever watched an episode of “Law & Order” has heard about Miranda rights. Though you may know the term, you might not fully understand what they are and why they are so important.
First things first, Miranda rights exist to warn criminal suspects that they have the right to not incriminate themselves during a police interrogation. This means that the suspect has the right to obtain the services of a criminal defense lawyer as well as the right to remain silent. Miranda rights require police officers to immediately end any interrogations once a person says they do not wish to talk to the police. Similarly, if a person requests a criminal defense lawyer, the officers are not permitted to resume interrogations until the suspect has a defense attorney present.
The Miranda rights are very important to avoiding police abuse and intimidation, but they only apply in certain circumstances. Miranda rights exist when a criminal suspect is in custody and being interrogated by the police. The rights do not apply to spontaneous admissions by suspects or statements that were offered up outside of a police interrogation.
If police are found to have violated your Miranda rights, unfortunately, it does not mean that your charges instantly disappear. Instead, the admissions you made will likely be deemed the result of coercion and a judge will typically exclude them from evidence at trial. Though this may damage the prosecution’s case, it is possible for the government to simply find new evidence to use against you.
Misdemeanors vs. felonies
Another important area to understand is the difference between two categories of criminal charges: misdemeanors and felonies. Without understanding the type of crime you’ve been charged with, it will be difficult to grasp the possible penalties you face.
The best way to understand the difference between misdemeanors and felonies is that misdemeanors are typically the less serious crimes with correspondingly less severe penalties. For many felonies, the maximum jail time possible is one year, while felonies are those crimes punished with more than one year behind bars.
Examples of some common misdemeanor crimes include things like drunk driving, shoplifting and vandalism. These misdemeanor cases are usually handled in municipal courts, while felonies are handled in General Sessions courts. Felony crimes include things such as murder, rape and armed robbery.
Though most states simply divide crimes into felonies and misdemeanors, leaving it at that, in South Carolina, the law includes even more classifications, dividing misdemeanors into Class A, B and C crimes. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious and include the longest possible punishment, while Class C misdemeanors are the least serious. The law says that the maximum incarceration possible for those convicted of Class C misdemeanors is one year behind bars. Class B misdemeanors can result in up to two years in jail and Class C misdemeanors can lead to three years of incarceration.
If you’ve been arrested in South Carolina it’s crucial that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you navigate such complicated legal matters. Experience matters when handling serious criminal issues and you don’t want to take any chances when your freedom is at stake. David Aylor understands how scary the criminal justice system can be and is here to guide you through the process. If you or someone you know has been arrested and is in need of South Carolina criminal defense lawyer, feel free to contact David Aylor today at 843.577.5530.