State v. Ramsey – uniform traffic ticket or arrest warrant

In State v. Ramsey, decided June 6, 2012, the S.C. Court of Appeals held that a uniform traffic ticket does not commence judicial proceedings for a CDV (criminal domestic violence) not committed in the officer’s presence.

Per Section 22-3-710 of the South Carolina Code, an arrest warrant, signed by a judicial officer, is necessary to commence judicial cases except under limited circumstances that are defined by statute.  An officer can use a uniform traffic ticket (UTT) to charge a person when: 1) it is a traffic offense; 2) it is one of the offenses listed in S.C. Code Ann. § 56-7-10; or 3) when the offense is permitted in the presence of the officer and it is also within the jurisdiction of the magistrate’s court (S.C. Code Ann. § 56-7-15).

“Freshly committed” does not equal “in the presence of the officer.”  The Court makes a distinction between: 1) when an officer can arrest a person without a warrant – pursuant to State v. Martin, 275 S.C. 141, 143, 268 S.E.2d 105, 106 (1980), an officer “can arrest for a misdemeanor when the facts and circumstances observed by the officer give him probable cause to believe that a crime has been freshly committed;” (they still have to get a warrant, they just don’t have to do it before making the arrest); and 2) when a traffic ticket can be used instead of an arrest warrant to commence judicial proceedings (in the presence of the officer – not when the offense has been “freshly committed”).

What about cases in General Sessions Court that were initiated with a UTT instead of an arrest warrant?  S.C. Code Ann. § 56-7-10 says that “[t]he service of the uniform traffic ticket shall vest all traffic, recorders’, and magistrates’ courts with jurisdiction to hear and to dispose of the charge for which the ticket was issued and served.”  What does this mean for DUI 2nd offense or felony DUI cases that are written on UTT’s, which the magistrate court does not have jurisdiction to hear?  All cases in General Sessions Court must be indicted before proceeding to trial – I believe the appellate courts will find that the indictment then cures the initial error of writing the charge up on a UTT instead of seeking a warrant – but is there a distinction to be made here?

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