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There are 3 Levels of Courts in South Carolina

Interviewer: Even though there’s other charges associated with them, they’re still traffic offenses in some part, even if it’s vehicular manslaughter or hit-and-run, is that right?

Freddy: Yes, that is correct. In cases involving certain charges, they become general sessions charges. To explain, there are three levels of courts. There’s the magistrates level court that handles traffic tickets, speeding, that sort of thing. If the charges go up, you will be in general sessions court.

General sessions is the court that hears cases with charges where you could get a penalty of a year or more in jail. According to the statutes, that’s a general sessions court charge, also known as a “big court charge,” whereas the magistrates court is known as “little court.”

There are also courts above that which are the Court of Appeals. After you lose the general sessions, you want to appeal it, or the South Carolina Supreme Court, after you lose in the Court of Appeals; you want to appeal to the Supreme Court. There are those different layers and levels.

Generally, if you have an accident and you hurt someone, you’re going to go to general sessions court because the general sessions court may handle hit and run. A DUI with death results, reckless driving with death results and those things can land you in jail. You have to have a lawyer.

Interviewer: Are there any special infractions for offenses committed in work zones or school zones?

Speeding in a Work or School Zone

Freddy: Yes. If you’re speeding in a work zone, the fines and fees are double. If you had a $200.00 ticket, it’s now a $400.00 ticket. A $400.00 ticket is now an $800.00 ticket.

If you hit someone in work zone, you’re going to end up having a higher charge. It may end up going to general sessions court trying to avoid a jail sentence. A work zone ticket generally doubles whatever the fine is.

Interviewer: What about a school zone?

Freddy: An infraction in a school zone is treated the same way. It doubles the fine for the crime.

Habitual Traffic Offender

Interviewer: Is there a status called a “habitual traffic offender” in South Carolina? Do they have anything like that? For example, if you get a certain number of infractions in a period of time?

Freddy: Yes. There’s a statute called habitual traffic offender. Now, let me tell you how you get a habitual traffic offender. If you have DUI third or above, it means you have one DUI, you got a second DUI and now you have a third, a DUI third or above.

Now, you could be classified as an HTO, which is a habitual traffic offender. You’ll be DUI, third or above, with an HTO. For a DUI fourth and above, the classification is the same thing, HTO. A habitual traffic offender status means you are be committing the same crime time and time again. It is, as the word suggests, habitual.

When you have that, you can get forever barred from having a license, which is something known as “an indefinite suspension.” They can suspend your license up to five years or they can give you an indefinite suspension, meaning you can never have a license in the state.

Interviewer: That is very severe.

Freddy: A habitual traffic offender classification also carries a penalty of up to five years in jail, on top of whatever the other charges are.

Interviewer: Can this happen with charges besides DUI, for example, if you got a multiple speeding tickets or if you had numerous other traffic offenses?

Freddy: Yes. If you have a DUI third in a row, you can have a HTO. If you have a driving under suspension, you can have a habitual traffic offense classification, HTO. That means that you didn’t have a license and they caught you driving.

If you have multiple charges, generally, or the same type of charge, even reckless driving third and above, you can be classified with a habitual traffic offender status. Habitual traffic offenses means that you’ve done it three or more times. It generally works as “three strikes and you’re out.”

Do You Need an Attorney for Magistrates Court?,

Interviewer: Do people need a lawyer if they are scheduled to appear in magistrate court? Are you typically able to appear for them and save them an appearance?

Freddy: Yes. Generally if they hire us for a magistrates court appearance that’s usually for a DUI. They may have to make one appearance at the end or they can do that by affidavit and never have to make an appearance.

If they hire us for a traffic offense such as speeding or reckless driving, generally they don’t have to make an appearance if the jurisdiction allows an affidavit. Some judges are really sticklers about you coming to court and some will let you do it by affidavit, meaning that they have to sign affidavit or pay money for the fine. Then you can send it in.

By Freddy Woods

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