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.