The details in state criminal statues vary, but the general outline of the criminal process is similar across the country. Here are some things to know if you are accused of a crime in South Carolina.

Arrest Procedures

Before arresting you, officers need probable cause. This means they have a good reason to believe you committed a crime, such as having seen you do so or having an arrest warrant for you.

The arresting officer is supposed to make sure you understand your right to remain silent and your right to legal representation. These are called your Miranda rights.

The police will take you to the police station for booking. During this procedure, they try to verify your identity and take your fingerprints and “mug shots” before putting you in a holding cell.

Your Right to Bail in South Carolina

With a few exceptions, as long as your alleged crime is not a capital offense or punishable by life in prison, you have the right to bail. Your bond hearing should be within 24 hours of your arrest.

In some cases, you may be able to pay the court up to 10 percent of your bond to secure your release. You may also hire a bail bondsman, who will pay the full bond on your behalf in exchange for a fee of between 10 percent and 15 percent of the full amount.

You may also be able to post a property bond, in which you allow the court to place a lien on your property.

Initial Court Appearances

Your first court date, within 45 days of your arrest, is called "roll call." Here the judge makes sure you have a lawyer if you want one. Your second court date, within 120 days of arrest, is where you enter a plea.

If you plead not guilty, meaning you do not admit to the crime, the judge will schedule your trial. A guilty plea means you do admit to the crime and your case goes straight to sentencing.

Plea Bargains

Most likely you and the prosecutor will come to an agreement, called a plea deal, rather than go to trial. The prosecutor will offer some concessions, such as recommending a lighter sentence, in exchange for your guilty plea to a specific charge.

South Carolina Preliminary Hearings and Grand Juries

If you are charged with a major crime, you have the right to request a preliminary hearing within 10 days of your bond hearing. At this hearing, the judge will decide if the evidence is strong enough to charge you. If the judge does not dismiss the charges, a grand jury must usually make the final decision to go to trial.

Trials and Sentencing

At trial, the prosecution and your criminal lawyer each present their cases. They may call supporting witnesses and cross-examine each other's witnesses.

If the verdict is guilty, the judge will set your sentence. He or she may use the state's sentencing guidelines, although this is not required, and may also consider factors such as your criminal history.

A South Carolina Lawyer Can Understand

Criminal law is complicated, and your case is unique. While this article provides a brief overview of South Carolina's procedures, for specific advice about your case, talk with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

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