There are 9 Stages to a Criminal Case in South Carolina:

1st Step: ARREST – That means that a person gets arrested for a crime. They’re actually put in handcuffs and they’re actually transported somewhere. That “somewhere” is the second place.

2nd Step: JAIL- You are transported to jail. You’re fingerprinted. You’re photographed. The image of being given a number to hold in front of you is the more traditional way that people sort of think about being booked in at the jail. Its actually more expansive than that, You are fingerprinted, photographed and you have a number that you hold in front of you and you get the displeasure of having your face posted up online and the whole world knows that you’ve been arrested. Usually, those “mugshots” are put into a catalog called mugshots.com or into one of several publications that publish mugshots of people and what they’ve been charged with. Its embarrassing and its frustrating for the person who is arrested. And that’s the second step, jail.

3rd Step: BOND/BAIL- is getting a bond (an amount of money to pay to the court) to be released. Bail is where you have to that amount to be able to get out of jail in the hopes and the promise that you’ll come back and continue your case or complete your case.  A bondsman will typically charge anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of the face amount of the bond as their fee to “sign” your bond for you. If you don’t come back to court, they will take it personally and come get you!

4th Step: ARRAIGNMENT- In an arraignment, this is a court proceeding where you have a criminal charge against you and they bring you before the judge and they say, “We have this criminal charge against you. How do you want to proceed? Do you plead guilty or not guilty and do you want to challenge it?” And of course you challenge it. You challenge it with a lawyer. It is not wise to plead guilty at an arraignment and most jurisdictions won’t let you. This proceeding is handled by the lawyer and the client says very little at this stage.

5th Step: PRELIMINARY HEARING- is an important and often overlooked step in a case. After you’ve been arrested you only have “10 DAYS” to request a hearing in South Carolina.  This is why it is important to consult with a lawyer as soon as you get out of jail, because this time limit is very strict. A good lawyer will request your hearing for you and preserve your right to this hearing immediately. This request is usually sent with the lawyer’s letter of representation and discovery request package to the prosecutor or the officer.  At the preliminary hearing, the only question is whether or not there was probable cause to find that they should have stopped you in the first place. If you are were in a car and driving or if you were stopped on the street and arrested, they should have had a legal reason to stop you and that is that they had “probable cause” to believe that you’re committing a crime.
 The state, through the officer’s testimony, must establish that there was probable cause for the arrest for the case against you to continue.

6th Step:  PRETRIAL CONFERENCE- is the next step in the process. At the “pretrial conference” the lawyer has a chance to talk to the officer, to the prosecutor and also to the judge, in many instances. At that pretrial conference, it is determined whether or not the case will be going forward with a trial or a plea. If there are any negotiations for a lesser charge or sentence, it will first happen at this conference.

7th Step:  BENCH OR JURY TRIAL- is called a “jury trial” for a reason.   If you don’t end up working it out on a plea, then you end up with a bench trial (trial in front of a judge only) or a jury trial. At that jury trial, there will be 12 jurors who are supposed to be fair and impartial jurors, who are to hear the evidence presented by the attorneys and the prosecutors and to decide your fate. It is their collective and unanimous decision on whether or not you will only be found guilty or not guilty.

8th Step: SENTENCING- This is where your fate is decided.  The sentencing is not done by jurors; they only just decide whether they believe you are guilty or not guilty. The Sentencing phase is done by the judge. The judge, himself, or herself, will be able to say that, “Based on the jury finding you guilty, your sentence is X.”  The sentence they impose is within their discretion within the range of acceptable sentences provided by law.  If, however, you are found not guilty, however,  then you get to walk away free.

9th Step: APPEAL- If you lose your case you have the right to an appeal. That is that you’ve been found guilty of a particular crime. You did not get to walk away free and be found not guilty, otherwise that would be the end of it, but you’ve been found guilty of a particular crime and now you want to appeal the jury’s verdict at trial or appeal the sentence of the judge. In most jurisdictions, you have only 10 to 30 days to be able to appeal that conviction, depending on which jurisdiction you’re in, or to appeal the jury trial’s result, depending on what the jurisdiction you’re in. The appeal is a separate court case and can take months or years. During this time the person will remain in jail or may in rare cases be granted an appeal bond and allowed to be out of jail pending an appeal, usually with electronic monitoring such as an ankle bracelet with a GPS fastened to their leg to ensure that the court knows where they are at all times.These are the general stage of a criminal case.  The attorney you choose helps you navigate this legal minefield to get the best result. So choose your attorney carefully. They have your life and or freedom in their hands.

By Freddy Woods