Hollywood and the media like to glamorize criminal court proceedings. Whether you watch a movie or TV show that portrays a fictional case, or the news coverage of a real-life case, what you are seeing is the highlight reel.
Unfortunately, those snapshots and soundbites oversimplify the complex nature of criminal courts. The incomplete portrayals of criminal trials leave people with misconceptions about how criminal court cases actually unfold.
In any criminal proceeding, the defendant is charged with a crime, which can happen in a few ways. For example:
- An individual may turn him or herself in for committing a crime.
- A victim may press charges against the individual.
- The police may catch an individual in the act of committing a crime.
Whether you have been charged with a crime or have been the victim of one, you need to understand how the criminal court in South Carolina works. Having basic knowledge of the criminal court process will prepare you for what lies ahead.
Common Questions About Criminal Court
Below are several frequently asked questions about South Carolina’s criminal court system. If you do not see your question answered below, feel free to give us a call so we can discuss your concerns.
1. What are criminal charges?
Criminal charges are a formal accusation that someone has committed a crime. The government may charge an individual with one “count” (or a criminal charge), or with multiple “counts,” meaning multiple criminal charges.
In general, criminal charges are described in a document of some kind, as a(n):
2. Who files criminal charges?
The solicitor (South Carolina term for prosecutor) files criminal charges, but before those charges are filed, the police must investigate the case. Their goal is to gather enough evidence to show that a suspect committed a crime. Then, the police will charge the suspect with the crime and turn over the evidence to the solicitor to file the charge(s).
Once the police have charged a suspect, the prosecutor files the legal criminal accusations in an indictment.
3. Can I file criminal charges against someone?
You cannot file criminal charges; only the solicitor’s office has the authority to do that. However, you can “press charges” against someone whom you believe has committed a crime against you by making a statement or report to law enforcement.
The first step in pressing charges is to file a police report. You will want to include as much information as possible to help the police with their investigation, such as documentation of:
- Physical injuries
- Property damage
- Video recordings of the incident
- Witness statements
4. What happens when criminal charges are filed?
Sometimes, a suspect is first charged with a crime through an arrest warrant,then arrested and booked into jail. However, in most cases, the arrest itself is what begins criminal proceedings.
The next step is a bond hearing, in which a judge decides whether or not the defendant may be released on bond. If the judge decides that the defendant is not dangerous and is not likely to flee, the judge will set a dollar amount and conditions for bond.
5. Are misdemeanors criminal charges?
Yes, misdemeanors are criminal charges and so are felonies. Misdemeanors are considered less severe crimes and often carry shorter prison sentences and/or smaller fines.
On the other hand, felonies are serious crimes that carry harsh consequences like long prison sentences and/or hefty fines.
6. What could happen if I am convicted of a criminal charge?
If you are convicted of a criminal offense, a few things will happen.
- First, you will have a pre-sentence interview with a probation officer.
- Second, you will have to attend a sentencing hearing.
- The judge at the sentencing hearing will listen to recommendations from your attorney, the solicitor, and the probation officer.
- Lastly, the judge will decide what your sentence should be for the crime for which you were convicted.
7. What does “criminal charge disposition” mean?
The disposition of a criminal charge means the end of a case—specifically, what the final outcome is. Disposition hearings, also called sentencing hearings, mark the end of your criminal case before serving any sentence that may be imposed.
8. What does “criminal charges pending” mean?
Criminal charges are considered “pending” when charges have been filed against a suspect, but the case has not yet reached its final outcome.
9. What are criminal charge codes?
Criminal charge codes are the numbers that are assigned to specific crimes and charges. The codes help clarify exactly what a person is being accused of. These codes are state specific, so South Carolina’s criminal charge codes will not match up with another state’s codes.
10. How do I get criminal charges dismissed?
Your best chance of getting charges dismissed is to hire an experienced defense attorney. Your lawyer may be able to uncover mistakes the police or solicitor made, which will cause the case against you to be dropped.
11. Do criminal charges expire?
No, criminal charges in and of themselves do not expire. However, the State must handle charges promptly due to the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
Furthermore, there are statutes of limitations on some criminal charges. If charges are not filed within a designated window of time, then the crime cannot be prosecuted. In a sense, the criminal charge expires. The statute of limitations for particular crimes vary by state, and some crimes—like murder—do not have a statute of limitations.
12. How do I beat criminal charges?
You can beat criminal charges, but doing so on your own is almost impossible. Hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to give yourself the best chance of beating criminal charges.
An attorney with experience in criminal courts will know how to mount a robust defense against the charges presented against you.
13. Can criminal charges be dropped by the victim?
No, criminal charges cannot be dropped by the victim; the power to drop criminal charges lies with the solicitor. However, the victim may express his or her desire that the charges be dropped, and the solicitor will take that into consideration.
Still, the solicitor does not have to drop charges just because the victim requests it. However, in some cases, the victim’s cooperation is so essential that the solicitor might have to drop the charges if the victim refuses to cooperate.
14. Can criminal charges be reinstated?
Yes, criminal charges can be reinstated as long as the charges were not dismissed “with prejudice.” Criminal charges that are dismissed without prejudice or “nol-prossed” can be brought against the defendant again.
15. Can criminal charges be upgraded?
In some cases, criminal charges can be upgraded. For example, if the police find new evidence or the solicitor sees fit to upgrade a charge to a more serious offense, then it can happen. However, the evidence must match the charge. In other words, charges cannot be inflated for purposes of negotiation.
16. Are criminal charges public record?
Yes, criminal charges are a part of the public record. In most cities and counties, anyone can look up criminal charges and arrest records on the police or sheriff’s department’s website.
Once criminal charges are officially indicted, then the details of the charges will appear on the court’s website.
17. Do criminal charges show up on background checks?
Yes, criminal charges most definitely appear on background checks. That is why a criminal record can affect a person’s employment, schooling, loan applications, and even family relationships.
18. How can I get criminal charges expunged?
Some criminal charges can be expunged if a convict applies to the court for expungement. Having an attorney is not required for an expungement; however, consulting with an experienced attorney may improve one’s chances of getting charges expunged.
Still, some criminal charges are not eligible for expungement. Most felonies cannot be expunged.
19. What criminal charges disqualify you from owning a gun?
Individuals charged with or convicted of certain crimes are prohibited from owning a firearm. For example, the following people cannot legally own a gun:
- Undocumented citizens
- Individuals committed to mental health facilities
- Individuals charged with a felony
- Individuals convicted of a felony
- Individuals convicted of crimes punishable by more than one year of incarceration
- Individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes
- Users of certain illegal drugs
20. Do I need a lawyer to handle criminal charges?
Yes, you should most definitely work with a lawyer to handle your criminal charges. There are some alternatives, such as self-representation or working with a public defender, but hiring a lawyer is likely to provide you with the best outcome. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you put up a strong fight against the charges brought against you.
Are you facing criminal charges in South Carolina?
Consider discussing the particulars of your case with one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers. Our team of attorneys understands the inner workings of South Carolina’s criminal court.
Let us help you prepare for your case. We will fight for your rights! Call 843-853-3310 or fill out our online form to setup a free consultation.