Bond Court – After you are arrested, fingerprinted, and jailed, you’ll appear before a magistrate judge in bond court. In Charleston, this is done by video conference. You have a right to an attorney during your bond hearing. In setting a bond amount, the judge will decide whether you’re a risk of flight or a risk of harm to the community. Unless the court releases you on your own “personal recognizance,” you’ll have to post bail to get out of jail.
Bail is financial assurance that you will return to court after you’ve been released from custody. There are two ways to post bail. First, cash (or property) may be posted with the clerk of court. If you don’t have the cash, you can hire a bail bondsman to post bail. A bondsman charges a fee which isn’t refunded at the end of your case. If you post bail yourself and you are found not guilty or the charge is dismissed, then you’ll get your money back. If you are found guilty, then your money is returned to you after you are sentenced.
Preliminary Hearing – In South Carolina, you have the right to a preliminary hearing, and you have ten days after your bond hearing to request it. During the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must show a judge that there was “probable cause” to arrest you. To establish probable cause, your arresting officer must be able to point to the factual circumstances that led the officer to believe you committed a crime. If the judge doesn’t find probable cause, then your charge may be dismissed.
Discovery – To plan your defense, you need to know what information the prosecution intends to use against you. In South Carolina, you have the right to ask the prosecution to disclose this information through discovery made by way of formal, written motions. First and foremost, you are entitled to the disclosure of any evidence that tends to clear you of guilt (exculpatory evidence). Additionally, you are entitled to information such as witness statements, photographs and documents, results from experiments or tests, and other information.
Trial – In Charleston and surrounding areas, most cases take several months to a year to be set for trial. You can choose either a bench trial (a judge hears and decides your case) or a jury trial consisting of 12 jurors in felony cases in General Sessions Court or 6 jurors in misdemeanor cases magistrate’s court. During trial, the prosecution goes first and the defense follows last. Because you are “innocent until proven guilty,” the prosecution must prove that you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that you aren’t required to put up any evidence or testimony to show that you’re innocent.
When the lawyer’s arguments, the witnesses, and closing statements by the attorneys are done, the jury renders a verdict. If you’re acquitted, the case is over and you free to go. If the jury decides you’re guilty, then the judge must decide your punishment such as fines, probation, and/or time in jail.