Being accused of a crime in South Carolina is a serious matter. A criminal conviction will result in a criminal record, fines, or jail time. If you’re arrested for a crime in Seneca, SC, it’s important that you prepare a strong factual and legal defense.
Common Crimes in South Carolina
Law enforcement will charge a person if they believe there exists probable cause indicating that the alleged unlawful actor committed a violation of State law or a local ordinance. In South Carolina, criminal offenses are divided into two categories: 1) Felonies; and 2) Misdemeanors. Felonies, pursuant to South Carolina law, are violations of code that often carry a maximum period of incarceration greater than three years. There do exist several common law misdemeanors in South Carolina that carry potential maximum periods of incarceration of up to ten years, but by and large, felony offenses in South Carolina are those that carry a maximum period of incarceration greater than three years. Offenses that carry maximum period of incarceration of three years or less are Misdemeanors according to South Carolina law. It is important to note, though, that the United States Government uses different definitions for Felony and Misdemeanor than the State of South Carolina. Below are some of the most common crimes in South Carolina:
- Drunk Driving (DUI): The punishments in South Carolina for driving while under the influence of alcohol are harsh. Depending on the driver’s BAC, a first offense DUI conviction requires a minimum period of incarceration between 48 hours and 30 days or a fine between $400-$1000. In addition, a DUI conviction in South Carolina will automatically result in the suspension of the driver’s license for a period of six months. Second or subsequent DUI convictions yield even greater periods of incarceration, greater fines, and more lengthy suspensions.
- Fraud, False Pretenses, Breach of Trust, FTC Theft, and Identity Theft: White collar criminal offenses in South Carolina can be divided into several distinct categories, but all involve a unifying theme: some form of false representation that results in a loss to another party. Breach of trust, for example, is the lawful taking of an item from an individual or corporation and the subsequent appropriation of that item for some other than that authorized by the owner. In other words, if an employer authorizes an employee to use a truck for work, and the employee sells the truck without his owner’s consent, then the employee has committed breach of trust. Similarly, obtaining goods or services by false pretenses is charged when an individual obtains something of value from a person or business by misrepresenting some piece of information that induces the person or business to provide the thing of value to the offender. By way of example, if a painter represented to a homeowner that he would pain the homeowner’s house for $5,000.00, the homeowner paid the painter to paint the home, and the painter never intended to paint and did not paint the home, then the painter would have committed the crime of obtaining goods or services under false pretenses. Like all property crimes in South Carolina, the penalties for “white collar” crimes are contingent upon the loss amount or value of the property unlawfully gained by the offending party.
- Property Crimes. This category of offense includes larceny, malicious damage to property, the aforementioned “white collar” crimes, shoplifting, temporary use of motor vehicle, and any other offense where the potential penalty for a violation is contingent upon the value of the property central to the offense. By way of example, shoplifting an item worth less than $2,000.00 carries a potential penalty between 0 and 30 days, shoplifting an item worth more than $2,000.00 but less than $10,000.00 carries a potential penalty between 0 and 5 years, and shoplifting an item worth more than $10,000.00 carries a potential penalty between 0 and 10 years. In addition, offenders charged with a third or subsequent property offense can be charged with an “enhanced” offense that carries a potential penalty between 0 and 10 years irrespective of the amount of property central to the offense.
- Traffic Offenses. Traffic citations are prosecuted in magistrate or municipal court in the vast majority of cases. These offenses include any traffic infraction that is punishable by a fine or a loss of points on one’s license. It is important to note that traffic offenses cannot be resolved via pretrial intervention (PTI) whereas other offenses that involve the use of a motor vehicle, failure to stop for a blue light, for instance, can be resolved via PTI.
- Misdemeanors. Misdemeanors include a wide variety of crimes that are classified as “misdemeanors” by South Carolina Code Section 16-1-10, et seq. Misdemeanor are divided in to three categories and include all offenses with a term of imprisonment less than one year. It is important to note that South Carolina’s classification of offenses describes some offenses as “misdemeanors” when those same offenses are “felonies” pursuant to Federal law. It is important to remember, then, that just because South Carolina considers an offense a misdemeanor does not mean that the offense is a misdemeanor pursuant to Federal law. Before entering a guilty plea to any offense, it is wise to consult an attorney regarding the collateral consequences associated with a conviction.
- Drug Crimes. In South Carolina, drug offenses are generally prosecutable and punishable based on: 1) the type of controlled substance involved; 2) the amount of the controlled substance found; and 3) whether the alleged offender intended to distribute, manufacture, traffic, or do help distribute, manufacture, or traffic the substance rather than possess it for personal consumption. Defenses in drug cases usually turn on factual questions regarding who possessed a particular substance/what evidence indicates that an accused possessed the substance in question and legal questions regarding the lawfulness of law enforcement’s actions and the likelihood that evidence of criminality will be suppressed by the court.
- Sex Crimes. In South Carolina, “sex crimes” usually fall into one of three categories: 1) physical crimes perpetrated against children; 2) physical crimes perpetrated against adults; and 3) crimes related to the depiction, transmission, and/or publication of illegal images or messages. There are, of course, instances where these categories overlap, but for the most part, these categories encapsulate the vast majority of sex crimes in this state. Crimes against children, like criminal sexual conduct with a minor, are often prioritized by Solicitor’s Offices as children are our the most vulnerable members of our communities and the members of our communities most in need of protection. Crimes against children also carry the most substantial potential sentences. Sexual offenses against adults, like criminal sexual conduct, punish non-consensual sexual contact with adult victims. These crimes, too, are prioritized by prosecutors as offenders often cause lasting injury, both physical and psychological, to victims. Finally, crimes involving the unlawful dissemination unlawful images or messages includes internet crimes, crimes perpetrate by cell phone, and crimes related to the unlawful publication of illicit pornographic materials. These offenses, too, are treated seriously and given much attention by law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices. Anyone charged with any offense in one of these categories should immediately seek the assistance of a competent criminal defense attorney.
- Violent Crimes. “Violent crimes” are those offenses listed in South Carolina Code Section 16-1-60 and include crimes like murder, attempted murder, assault and battery by mob, 1st degree, criminal sexual conduct with minors, assault with intent to kill, ABHAN, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, voluntary manslaughter, trafficking meth, trafficking crack, manufacturing meth, arson in the first and second degrees burglary in the first degree, burglary in the second degree (of a building), DVHAN, homicide by child abuse, abuse of a vulnerable adult resulting in death, spousal sexual battery, sexual exploitation of a minor, fail to stop for blue light resulting in death, DUI resulting in death, and boating under the influence resulting in death, amongst others.
- Robbery and Burglary. Robbery and burglary are two offenses that are often confused and that have very different elements. Robbery is taking something or attempting to take something from another person via force or threat of force. Robbery, in South Carolina is divided into two categories: 1) strong-arm robbery; and 2) armed robbery. Strong-armed robbery is the act of taking something from someone via force or threat of force but without the use of a deadly weapon. Armed robbery, is taking something from someone via force or threat of force while using a deadly weapon. Burglary, on the other hand, is the unlawful entry of a dwelling or other building to commit a crime once inside. A burglary can be divided into two categories and four offenses: 1) burglaries of dwellings (burglary 1st degree and burglary 2nd degree (non-violent)); and 2) burglaries of buildings that are not dwellings (burglary 2nd degree (violent) and burglary 3rd degree. The penalties for these offenses vary dramatically. Burglary in the first degree, for instance, carries a potential sentence of fifteen years to life in prison. Burglary in the third degree, first offense, on the other hand, carries a potential sentence between zero and 5 years of incarceration.
- Weapons Violations. South Carolina criminalizes the possession of firearms by persons convicted of “violent crimes” as well as “crimes of violence.” While those two terms sound similar, they are defined differently, and some “crimes of violence” are not “violent crimes.” In addition, South Carolina criminalizes the unlawful carrying and presentation of firearms. By way of example, it is illegal to ride with a handgun in the door pocket of a motor vehicle. It is also illegal to conceal a weapon on one’s person in a public place without a permit to do so. It is similarly illegal to point or present a firearm at another person without cause or legal authority. Folks charged with unlawful carrying, pointing and presenting, possession of a weapon with an obliterated serial number, possession of a stolen pistol, or possession of a weapon by a person convicted of a violent crime should call an attorney to discuss available defenses.
What To Do If You’ve Been Arrested in Seneca, South Carolina
Getting arrested in South Carolina and other states can be a scary time, but it’s important that you remain calm. There are things you can take to protect your rights during an arrest.
- Be Quiet. Under the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to remain silent. If you’re being arrested, this is the time to exercise that right. You are under no obligation to provide the police with information that helps them present a case against you, and even if you do not think that is what you are doing, your statements may later prove to be inculpatory.
- Co-operate. Be polite and provide any personal information that the police in Seneca, SC may request such as your name and your driver’s license. Beyond that, don’t answer any of their questions, as your answers may be used against you in court.
- Get a South Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney. If you’ve been arrested in Seneca, SC, every minute counts, and the sooner you retain an attorney to represent you, the better.
Prior Convictions in South Carolina
If you were convicted of a prior criminal offense in South Carolina, then that information is sometimes admissible at trial to prove some element of the offense or to impeach you if and when you choose to testify. South Carolina’s rules of evidence provide that witnesses may be impeached with criminal convictions that occurred in the last ten years when any conviction carried a potential period of incarceration greater than one year or constituted a crime of falsity. By way of example, false information to police, while only a thirty-day offense, could be admissible to impeach a witness at trial. Similarly, assault and battery in the second degree is admissible to impeach a witness at trial as it carries a maximum period of incarceration of three years.
In addition, some prior convictions are admissible if they constitute an element that the state has to prove to sustain a conviction. Burglary in the first degree, for instance, can be proved if an individual has twice been convicted of the crime of burglary and is subsequently charged with burglary. Because the state has to prove the prior convictions to sustain a conviction for burglary in the first degree, those convictions would be admissible at trial.
South Carolina Bonds/Bail
Bond and bail are monies and/or property deposited with the court to ensure that an individual has an incentive to appear when notified by the court. If the person appears, then monies or property deposited with the court is returned. If the person fails to appear, then those monies or property can be estreated or kept by the state. Bondsmen sign paperwork with the court assuring the appearance of a charged person in exchange for some consideration, usually a payment of a percentage of the total bond amount, by the accused or his family. If the accused fails to appear, then it is the bondsman’s money at stake, so the bondsman has an incentive to find the accused and produce him before the bond is estreated.
It does not matter whether one is found guilty or pleads guilty, as long as he returns to the court when required, the money and/or property will be returned at the conclusion of the case.
A bond/bail may not be required in some misdemeanor cases and traffic offenses. In those cases, accused persons are often released on personal recognizance bonds—bonds that they can sign themselves where the promise to appear when notified.
For felony charges, the judge may use a bond/bail as an incentive for one to return to court as required and not flee. Your knowledgeable Seneca, South Carolina criminal defense attorney will know how t negotiate the bond amount that, hopefully, you can afford, while satisfying the judge that you are not a flight risk.
Plea Agreements in South Carolina
A plea agreement is a way to amicably resolve a pending charge or pending charges by virtue of an agreement between the prosecution and the defendant about the charges to which the offender will plead guilty and/or the sentence recommended to the court by the state. In South Carolina, the vast majority of criminal cases end with a plea agreement and a guilty plea.
Plea agreements often serve the interests of both the prosecution and the defendant. The prosecution can guarantee a conviction while the defendant can mitigate his overall risk. Trial courts and judges like plea agreements because they reduce the burden on the court and avoid the judicial backlogs that make more difficult the prompt resolution of other cases.
However, there are many cases to which individuals should not plead guilty. Depending on your individual case and what you’ve been charged with, your Seneca, South Carolina criminal defense attorney will be able to help you determine whether a plea agreement is in your best interest and advise you of the options that are available to you.
Why you Need a Seneca, South Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney
Being arrested for a crime is a serious matter, and the sooner you retain the services of a skilled Seneca criminal defense attorney the better. However, there are several things you should do to find the right South Carolina criminal defense attorney for you.
- Research. Talk to your friends and family, do research on the internet, and review the website or websites of any criminal defense attorney you are interested in hiring.
- Make Calls. Call some of the Seneca criminal defense attorneys and set up times to either meet with them face to face or to have a telephone conversation with them. Many South Carolina criminal defense lawyers offer free consultations.
- Ask Questions. When you have your meeting or telephone call with the criminal defense attorney, ask them any questions you may have. For example, you should ask them how long they’ve been a criminal defense lawyer, how many trials they’ve had, how many cases they’ve handled, and what they charge. It’s important that you feel comfortable with the attorney you decide to hire because you’re going to have to trust them to handle your criminal case in Seneca, South Carolina.
Criminal laws in South Carolina can be complex and confusing. Your South Carolina criminal defense attorney should possess the skill, knowledge, and experience to navigate the court system, negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea agreement, or take your case to trial. It’s important that you have a qualified Seneca, SC criminal defense lawyer on your side to advocate for you, fight for you, and ensure that your rights are protected in South Carolina. Call David R. Price Jr., P.A. Today!