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Criminal Penalties in SC
If you plead guilty or are convicted after trial of a criminal offense in South Carolina, the potential penalties can 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 by the legislature in the statute that defines 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.Are There Mandatory Minimum Sentences in SC?
Some charges in SC carry mandatory minimum sentences. For example:
- Murder has a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years imprisonment;
- Trafficking in cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines (meth) can have mandatory minimum sentences of up to 25 years in some cases;
- DUI or driving under the influence charges have mandatory minimums depending on the breathalyzer result and number of prior offenses;
- DUS or driving under suspension third offense has a mandatory minimum prison sentence if the suspension was for a prior DUI conviction; and
- Many other serious offenses have mandatory minimum sentences that cannot be suspended or avoided.
If your charges have a mandatory minimum sentence, the court has no choice but to sentence you to prison time if you are convicted – the only way it can be avoided is through pretrial negotiations to reduce or change the charges that you plead to or by an acquittal at trial.Can I Get Probation for My Charges in SC?
In some cases, probation is an option in sentencing, but only for General Sessions level offenses – magistrates and city judges do not ordinarily have the authority to place a person on probation, and their only options following a conviction are to order a fine, jail time, time served, or community service.
When you are placed on probation in General Sessions Court, the judge sentences you to prison time, but then suspends the prison sentence provided that you successfully complete the requirements of probation.What are the Requirements of Probation in SC?
Probation is not easy, and it typically involves:
- Meeting with a probation agent at least once a month;
- Paying a supervision fee, court costs, and restitution (if applicable) each month;
- Maintaining regular employment and a stable residence;
- Remaining drug free and passing random drug tests;
- Home visits by the probation officer; and
- In some cases, hundreds of 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.Are There Other Options Besides Probation or Prison in SC?
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 including:PTI, or Pretrial Intervention
PTI 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.AEP, or the Alcohol Education Program
AEP is similar to PTI, but it is only available for people who are charged with alcohol-related offenses like minor in possession of alcohol or open container charges.TEP, or the Traffic Education Program
Also known as “traffic school,” TEP is a pretrial program for minor traffic offenses that allows you to get the ticket dismissed, expunged, and avoid any points on your license once you complete the requirements of the program.Conditional Discharge in SC
A conditional discharge may be available for first-offense simple possession of marijuana charges or other minor drug charges. It involves community service, but typically not as many hours as PTI requires, and the charge is dismissed and expunged once the community service is completed.Horry County or Richland County Drug Court
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 they are sent to prison.SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Lexington
Knowledge of all potential outcomes is critical when you are making important decisions about your case – you need to know what could happen if you plead guilty and what could happen if you lose your trial. You also need to know if there are alternatives that would allow you to get your case dismissed without going to trial.
If you have questions about the potential sentence that you could receive in your case and you have not yet retained a criminal defense lawyer, call the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm now at (843) 444-6122 or contact us online to find out what your options are and how we can help.