Your husband and his buddies had gone on a Halloween Bar Crawl in Five Points. The spouses wanted no part of it and got together for a nice dinner instead. You had just ordered dessert to share and one more glass of wine when your phone started ringing. Your husband had been arrested. You immediately started panicking. What happened? What is going to happen? Is he okay? What do you do now? What should you expect? Take a deep breath and keep reading for some basic information on criminal cases in Columbia.
To start out, you may wish to look through the FindLaw section on criminal law for a general overview. Then return here for information geared more specifically toward South Carolina and Richland County.
Names and Places To Know
Hearings for the case may be in the Richland County Magistrate Court, the Richland County Circuit Court, or even the Columbia Municipal Court -- check here for more information on Columbia courthouses.
Classification of Crimes
Crimes are generally classified according to their severity. Felonies are the more serious crimes for which punishment is typically more extreme, while misdemeanors are comparatively lesser offenses. In Columbia and the rest of South Carolina, felonies and misdemeanors are generally further classified for purposes of sentencing, although there are crimes that are exempt from the classification system.
Felonies range from Class A to Class F and misdemeanors from Class A to Class C. The "least serious" felony, Class F, is punishable by no more than 5 years imprisonment. Neglecting a vulnerable adult is considered a crime of this class. The "most serious" misdemeanor, Class A, is punishable by no more than 3 years imprisonment. Impersonating a voter is considered a crime of this class.
How a crime is classified impacts which court it is heard in and the way it proceeds. For more information on implications of a crime's classification, see here.
For a good overview of the process of a criminal case in the Circuit Court's Court of General Sessions, see these frequently asked questions on the South Carolina Judicial Department website. Cases in the Magistrate and/or Municipal court system will follow a slightly different path.
As noted, after an arrest, a General Sessions case typically begins with a bond hearing to decide whether the accused (the "defendant") can be counted on to return to court if he is released from custody. He may be released on his personal recognizance, which means that he simply promises to return, or he may be required to back up that promise with money or collateral.
For serious offenses the defendant may request a preliminary hearing in which the judge assesses whether there is probable cause to present the case to a grand jury. If the grand jury decides that it is appropriate to bring charges, the case will typically proceed to a First Appearance where the case is put on the judge's schedule and it is ensured that the defendant has access to an attorney. After that, at the Second Appearance, the defendant typically enters his plea. If he pleads "not guilty" the case will proceed to trial. If he wants to appeal a trial verdict he will have 10 days. For more information about how criminal cases typically proceed, check out the FindLaw section on Criminal Procedure.
Dealing With A Criminal Record
Under some circumstances you can apply to have an arrest or conviction removed ("expunged") from your record. Not all convictions can be expunged, and in fact, must fit into one of 8 categories to qualify. Contact the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office Expungement Division for more information.
There is also the possibility of having a conviction "pardoned" by the state. This does not remove it from your record, but your record will reflect that the state has "forgiven" you. Pardons are handled by the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
Contact a qualified attorney.