When it comes to criminal law, even the smallest of misdemeanors could have a significant effect on a person’s life. What might seem like a minor DWI/DUI charge could end up having your driver’s license taken for weeks or months. And if you’re a licensed professional, a criminal conviction could put your career and/or license at risk.
If you or a loved one have been charged or arrested with a criminal offense, it’s important to work with a criminal defense lawyer who has the experience, and skills to defend your case. The lawyer you choose could make or break your case; they could have the punishments relinquished or increase your fines. Criminal defense cases require a lawyer with the skill, talent, and experience, especially when dealing with complex cases.
At Ayers, Smithdeal, & Bettis, we have a team of criminal defense lawyers in Abbeville who can handle a wide variety of criminal charges, from small misdemeanors to serious felony charges. We aim to zealously protect the rights of our clients, as we still believe that you are innocent until you’re proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We will challenge each and every detail of the case against you to protect your freedom, rights, and your future.
We know that the stakes are high, and you don’t want to be forced to settle on an inexperienced criminal attorney just because of money. That’s why we offer legal insight without the super high costs associated with the larger firms across South Carolina. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help.
What Are Your Rights as A Criminal Defendant in South Carolina?
Being accused of a crime could easily be a person’s worst nightmare. In case you have already been arrested, you’re probably worried about getting out of jail before the trial. Will you be required to pay bail money? Will you be able to afford an attorney to defend you? And if you don’t have the funds necessary, how do you go about finding a court-appointed lawyer? An arrest tends to raise so many questions.
In South Carolina, a criminal defendant is awarded certain protections by the United States Constitution, which every jurisdiction adheres to. While many people are aware of their right to remain silent, few are aware of the many different rights they can exercise in case they are accused of a crime.
Criminal defendants’ procedural rights
The right to information on the type of complaint: The criminal complaint should state what crimes the defendant is accused of, in simple terms. This could be what the charges are and how many counts are being alleged. If someone is being criminally accused, they should be told what the crime is.
- Right to counsel: In criminal matters, especially when someone faces the possibility of a prison or jail sentence, they have the right to retain an attorney or if they can’t afford one, have access to a court-appointed attorney. Keep in mind that this is a constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment.
- Right against self-incrimination: As provided by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, you don’t have to testify in your own criminal case. You also don’t have to make statements or admissions to law enforcement.
- Right of confrontation: This is basically the right to defend yourself in a court of law and confront any of your accusers and the opposing witnesses via cross-examination.
- Right to due process: Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, “no state shall deprive any person of life, property, or liberty without due process of the law”
- Right to a speedy trial: This is one of the most understood rights as it’s not clearly defined in terms of what is speedy and what is not. Nonetheless, it’s meant to prevent long prejudicial delays in your case, nothing more.
- Right to bail: note that this is not an absolute right, as some defendants can be held without bail in case they are found to have a flight risk or be a danger to society.
- Right to preliminary examination: The main purpose of this is to get some information from the officer to establish whether the state had probable cause to charge you with a crime
- Right to a unanimous verdict: For the defendant to be found guilty by injury, every individual juror has to unanimously find you guilty
- Right to compelling the attendance of witnesses: As a criminal defendant, you have the right to call forth a witness to testify on your behalf
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list – the right to discovery and all other constitutional rights will always apply to criminal matters. There are a number of other rights that your criminal defense attorney will explain to you.
What is a Misdemeanor vs a Felony in South Carolina?
In general terms, a crime is considered a felony when it carries the potential for more than a year of prison time. Keep in mind that certain misdemeanors carry the potential for over a year of imprisonment. Also note that South Carolina has some of the most punitive criminal laws in the country, and several offenses usually carry the potential for decades of imprisonment.
Misdemeanors are a much less serious crime than a felony. In most cases, when a person is charged with a misdemeanor, they will be given a simple fine. However, some misdemeanor cases can carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
In most states, the main dividing factor between felonies and misdemeanors is the potential to spend more than a year in prison. However, in South Carolina, the situation is quite different. Certain misdemeanors carry up to 3 years of prison time, while felony sentences start at up to 5 years.
Should I Consult a Criminal Defense Lawyer Before Speaking to the Police?
When a law enforcement officer wants to talk to you, most of the time will be them doing a criminal investigation, perhaps looking to make an arrest. It’s in your best interest to avoid cooperating and talking to the police unless you are the victim of a crime.
Don’t forget that you have a Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. So, if a police officer wants to talk to you about something that happened, you are under no obligation to speak to him. If they insist, you can respectfully say that:
- You would like to invoke your right to remain silent
- You want a criminal defense lawyer
When you say any of these, all the pressure the police would want to place on you goes away. They can’t ask any more questions. However, if you don’t say these two things, they will keep applying as much pressure as possible, and use unscrupulous means like lying to you that it’s in your best interest to talk to them when it’s certainly not.
What Is the Habitual Offender Law?
In South Carolina, if you accumulate three or more traffic offenses within a period of three years, the DMV can declare you a habitual offender, and suspend your license. Examples of these offenses include:
- DUI, DUAC, or a felony DUI
- Involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, or reckless homicide in offenses involving a motor vehicle
- Driving under suspension
- Reckless driving
- Leaving the scene of the accident where there’s injury or death
- Any traffic violation that is a felony
You can also be deemed a habitual offender in case you have ten or more traffic offenses that carry 4 or more points, or a combination of violations that are four or more points with the offenses listed above.
How Can A Criminal Defense Lawyer Help Me?
A lot is at stake when facing criminal charges. Depending on the nature of the criminal charges, you could be facing a loss of your driver’s license, prison or jail time, loss of a job or a tainted career, and/or hefty fines. This is no time to leave things to chance.
Ideally, you want to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has the skills and a track record of successfully handling felony and misdemeanor charges in South Carolina. You want to have a skilled negotiator by your side to reduce your charges and one who has an aggressive and proactive approach to help get your charges dismissed.
Contact an ASB Abbeville Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Being charged with any kind of crime can be an overwhelming and life-changing experience. In South Carolina, a criminal conviction will show up on a background check and it can affect your reputation, your job, your family, your right to carry a firearm, and even more importantly, your freedom. And as you can imagine, such a conviction would change your life forever.
Fortunately, law enforcement officers, investigators, and prosecutors do make mistakes. Sometimes, they will fail to allow legal procedures, and other times, they can wrongfully accuse an innocent person.
Whatever the case, an Ayers, Smithdeal, & Bettis criminal defense lawyer in Abbeville can help you examine the details of your case more carefully along with the charges filed against you, and help you build a strong defense to get you the best possible outcome.