If you plead guilty or are convicted of a criminal offense in South Carolina, the potential penalties vary widely depending on the nature of your charge, the circumstances of your case, and the strength of your defense. A range of penalties is set in the statute for each crime, and usually the judge has considerable discretion in sentencing. In some cases the penalty is determined by negotiations with the prosecutor, and in other cases the penalty is determined by the judge after arguments by the defense and prosecution. The possible penalties in any given case can be changed by modifying the charge to a less serious offense, although this can only be done by the prosecutor, the judge, or the jury in some cases.
Some charges carry mandatory minimum sentences. For example, murder has a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years imprisonment, or trafficking in cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines (meth) can have mandatory minimum sentences of up to 25 years in some cases. CDV or criminal domestic violence and DUI or driving under the influence charges have mandatory minimum sentences after the first offense. DUS or driving under suspension third offense has a mandatory minimum prison sentence if the suspension was for a prior DUI conviction.
In some cases, probation is an option in sentencing. When you are placed on probation, the judge sentences you to prison time, but then suspends the prison sentence provided that you successfully complete the term of probation. Probation is not easy, and it typically involves meeting with a probation agent at least once a month, paying a supervision fee and court costs each month, maintaining regular employment and a stable residence, remaining drug free and passing drug tests, and possibly many hours of community service. It is an opportunity to stay out of prison after being convicted of a crime, but if you don't make it on probation, you can be sent to prison following a probation violation hearing.
In addition to prison, fines, and probationary sentences, there are numerous other creative alternatives in sentencing. There are several pre-trial diversion programs that may be available to first time offenders. PTI or pre trial intervention is a program in which you do not have to admit guilt. You complete a set number of community service hours and may be required to attend counseling and pass drug tests. Once the requirements are successfully completed, the charges are dismissed and the arrest can be expunged from your record.
Some misdemeanor drug possession charges can be resolved with what is called a conditional discharge. A conditional discharge involves community service, but typically not as many hours as PTI requires, and the charge is dismissed once the community service is completed. There is another pre-trial diversion program called AEP (alcohol education program), which is available in some misdemeanor alcohol related cases such as minor in possession of alcohol.
Drug Court is another pre-trial option that can result in a dismissal of charges. It is only available in limited circumstances, and it is not the best option for everyone. Typically, the person enrolling in drug court will enter a guilty plea to a sentence which may be harsher than they would have otherwise received with a plea of guilty. They are then given the opportunity to complete the drug court program, which includes counseling, 12 step meetings, drug testing, and regular monitoring by the drug court's staff. If they successfully complete the program, their case is reopened and dismissed, and the charge may be expunged. However, if they do not complete the program, their case is sent back to court and their sentence is imposed.
Knowledge of potential penalties and sentencing options is a key part of an effective criminal defense, and there are times when the crafting of an appropriate sentence can result in a favorable outcome for all parties concerned. Call our Myrtle Beach office at 843-444-6122 or contact us online.