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General Sessions FAQ

The S.C. Judicial Department’s website now has a “self-help” section with “frequently asked questions” for each of the different state courts.  There is a frequently asked questions section for General Sessions court.  I like it – for the most part, it’s well-organized and should be helpful to a frightened person who has just been charged with a crime, or their family.

But, there are a few statements that are incorrect, at least in Horry and Georgetown Counties, and there are others that need embellishment:

Bond Hearings (p2):  explains that the judge decides whether or not to release someone on bond; please note that the S.C. Constitution requires the judge to release a person on bond, with the exception of capital offenses or certain violent crimes defined by statute:

SECTION 15. Right of bail; excessive bail; cruel or unusual or corporal punishment; detention of witnesses.

All persons shall be, before conviction, bailable by sufficient sureties, but bail may be denied to persons charged with capital offenses or offenses punishable by life imprisonment, or with violent offenses defined by the General Assembly, giving due weight to the evidence and to the nature and circumstances of the event. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor shall excessive fines be imposed, nor shall cruel, nor corporal, nor unusual punishment be inflicted, nor shall witnesses be unreasonably detained. (1970 (56) 2684; 1971 (57) 315; 1998 Act No. 259.)

This is an issue, because from time to time magistrates and municipal judges will deny bond on misdemeanors such as CDV – with a few exceptions, the judge does not decide whether to release a person on bond; the judge must set a bond, leaving only the question of what type of bond it will be.

Preliminary Hearings (p2): says that a defendant in General Sessions “has the right to request a preliminary hearing within 10 days of the bond hearing.”  A defendant has the right to have a preliminary hearing, not just to request a preliminary hearing.  Unless you are represented by the public defenders office in Horry County, in which case your preliminary hearing will be waived without any input from you.

First appearance (“Roll Call”) (p3): says that “the judge also puts the case on a schedule.”  In Horry County, there is no judge, and there is no schedule.  You will be excused from the initial appearance if you have an attorney and your attorney asks the prosecutor ahead of time.  But if you do show up, there is no judge there.  And there is no schedule.  Also, if you fail to appear and have not been excused, the solicitor will get a bench warrant signed ex parte and with no notice to you or your attorney.

Second appearance (p.3):  says that “[t]he defendant tells the judge whether he wants to plead guilty or request a jury trial. The judge places the case on either a plea or a trial schedule.”  Again, there is no judge.  There is no plea or trial schedule.  If you fail to appear the solicitor will get a bench warrant signed ex parte and with no notice to you or your attorney.

Post-Conviction Relief (PCR) (p.4): the document has a very brief blurb about PCR, but does not include all possible grounds for PCR – if you have questions about PCR please contact an attorney to find out what can and cannot be done.

When is my Trial Date (p.7): says that “Circuit Solicitors keep the trial schedule, which is called a “roster” or “docket”.”  Circuit Solicitors do keep the trial roster – in South Carolina, the prosecutor is in control of the docket and decides when to try what cases.  This means they also decide how long a person sits in jail before trial and they decide what judge they will call their case in front of.  If you think this sounds right, consider the state that our Common Pleas Court would be in if the Plaintiff’s attorneys controlled the docket and when their cases were called for trial.  In Common Pleas, the Court controls the docket, and for good reason.  In every other state except possibly Louisiana, the Court or the Clerk controls the docket in criminal court.

The author of the frequently asked questions then directs the reader to a listing of the Circuit Solicitor’s contact information.  If you are representing yourself in General Sessions court, you are an idiot.  If you can’t afford an attorney you will get a public defender and you need to rely on them.  Unless you are one of the very few mentally ill defendants who are representing themselves pro-se in General Sessions court, do not call the solicitor’s office for any reason – call your attorney instead.

 

New posts at Trial Theory

Crash the system redux
Snarky
South Carolina Police Misconduct Update
Transition

Criminal Defense

Two years ago I started taking on some civil cases – mostly civil rights cases, but also some insurance bad faith, medical malpractice, and auto accidents. I am now in the process of transitioning back to a criminal defense only practice – I’ve tried the civil arena, I see the possibilities for helping people and making money in the process, but it’s not for me.
From here on out we are only accepting criminal defense cases.

York attorney killed

Attorney Michael Howe was killed last night, allegedly shot by his girlfriend. I don’t have any comment on it and I don’t have any information other than what is in the newspaper article.

Seismologists charged with manslaughter for failing to predict earthquake

Italian authorities have charged seismologists with manslaughter for failing to predict when an earthquake would occur? This doesn’t make sense at all, and it’s hard to believe it’s a true story – but, this is not The Onion, it is Fox News.

Italian government officials have accused the country’s top seismologist of manslaughter, after failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009, a massive devastating earthquake that killed 308 people.

It seems to be generally accepted that it is simply not possible to predict earthquakes with any accuracy, so it is hard to understand why Italian officials would even attempt to bring charges such as this.

Earthquakes are, of course, nearly impossible to predict, seismologists say. In fact, according to the website for the USGS, no major quake has ever been predicted successfully.
“Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake,” reads a statement posted on the USGS website. “They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.”
John Vidale, a Washington State seismologist and professor at the University of Washington, agreed that earthquake forecasting is simply impossible.

I suppose this will motivate seismologists to get better at their jobs. Or, we will simply have no seismologists to blame once they all quit their jobs and become cab drivers. Could anyone who understands Italy’s justice system explain this to me, please?
H/T Balko

New post at TT

Jurors and social media

New post at TT

Trial theory is up and running again

I love the concept of Trial Theory – but a few months ago, discouraged by lack of participation in trial theory as a group blog, I decided to shut it down. That was a mistake, and the site is back up and I intend to keep it up. I’ll keep southcarolinacriminaldefenseblog running as well, but trial theory needs its own place as a forum to discuss trial practice and life in general without the stigma of the appearance of a “marketing blog” type of format.
The site is still open to guest bloggers – if you have a topic you want to share that deals with trial practice, psychodrama, or life in general, create a wordpress.com account, shoot me an email or leave a comment, and I will add you as a guest blogger. I appreciate any participation and feedback – thanks to all who are reading.

Trial theory

Back in December I started a new blog, called Trial Theory – the idea was a trial practice blog that would be a group endeavor and would discuss only trial practice and creative ideas for trial preparation. I love the idea, but I think that I am going to take it down – participation has been slow and spotty with the exception of Paul Smith’s contributions (thank you Paul), and I think that I will just incorporate the trial practice posts into this blog and keep it simple.
I may move some of my existing Trial Theory posts to this blog as well, so as not to lose them – I am particularly fond of Public Defender Revolution’s notion of “trial chicken,” which also has been the most read blog post at Trial Theory.
If anyone has contributed posts to Trial Theory and wants to save them, grab them in the next week or so please. I’ll reproduce this post over there and hopefully no-one will miss it.

Links

Charles Hood’s death sentence has been overturned, but not because his judge was sleeping with his prosecutor – the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed themselves, granting a new sentencing hearing based on an error in jury instructions that they had previously denied relief for. Dodging the bullet, and doubtless hoping that SCOTUS will not hear the case now.
A jury trial is a complex system that is more or less stable and predictable based on the amount of energy we inject into it.
A police misconduct victim’s guide, from Injustice Everywhere.
Why people go to trial, from DA Confidential. The list includes: an obstinate defendant or a defendant with a lot to lose (with an acknowledgment that a defendant may be obstinate because he is innocent), when the consequences of any guilty verdict are more important than the potential punishment (defendant is on probation or parole), and because the terms of the plea offer are unacceptable to them. How about because the Constitution provides for a right to trial by jury in every criminal case?
Two kids break into a car, one sits on his cell phone and dials 911 accidentally, and the two are recorded talking about what they are going to steal and what they will leave behind. Police arrive to find the two with the stolen property still in their possession.
Texas prosecutes vehicle accidents as crimes. Bennett and Kennedy are not pleased.
Homeland Security loses 985 Computers, 13 Automobiles, 1 International Harvester Truck, and 235 Night Vision Scopes. Lost, stolen and damaged equipment: 1975 pieces for a total value of $7.5 million.
Maricopa County attorney dismisses indictments against County Supervisor Don Staples and Judge Donahoe. H/T Balko.

The First Annual Bloggers’ Best Awards

In recognition of the fact that the ABA’s best law blogs contest is a joke, Mark Bennett has graciously offered to host the First Annual Bloggers’ Best Awards. Wonderful idea – one vote per voter and only bloggers, who know what they’re talking about, can vote. Honestly, I don’t read many blogs other than criminal defense and a few personal injury blogs, but here’s the ones that I do read (and a few ideas for categories that Bennett forgot):
* Best Personal Injury Law Blog: Paul Luvera’s Plaintiff’s Trial Lawyer Tips
* Best Criminal Law Blog: Defending People (have to, sorry)
* Best Legal Humor Blog: Courtoons
* Best Legal Criticism or Opinion Blog: Simple Justice (I honestly think you belong in this category Scott)
* Best Legal News or Politics Blog: Grits for Breakfast (even though the content is fairly local)
* Best Law Prof Blog: Legal Ethics Forum
* Best Law Blog in a Category SMT forgot:
Best Public Defender Blog: A Public Defender (public defenders really deserve their own sub-category. They could even win twice that way.)
Most original concept for a 2009 blog: Law and Baseball
Best law blog that defies categorization: The Life and Times of a Texas Trial Lawyer
Best criminal law blog on a marketing-blog-type platform other than wordpress or blogger.com:S.C. Criminal Defense Blog (seriously. I might could win twice that way like Gideon.)

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