Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help Me if I Am Guilty in South Carolina?

Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help Me if I Am Guilty in South Carolina?

If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, the last thing you want to do is assume that you are guilty. No matter what charge you are facing, a conviction will have severe consequences, and you need to fight your charge by all means available.

But, what if you are guilty? What if you committed a crime and you got caught? Should you still hire a criminal defense attorney; and, if so, what can a lawyer do to help?

7 Ways a Lawyer Can Help You if You Committed a Crime in South Carolina

Even if you committed a crime, you are not guilty until either (i) you plead guilty, or (ii) you are found guilty in court. This is very important to remember. The presumption of innocence always applies, and it is up to the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

But, let’s say you did something illegal, and there is a good chance that the prosecution will be able to collect the evidence it needs to secure a conviction. Here are seven ways a criminal defense lawyer can still help to minimize the consequences of your arrest:

1. Representing You During Your Pre-Trial Proceedings

There are several steps in a criminal case in the South Carolina courts. This includes steps that require you to appear in court before your trial date. If you appear in court on your own, you could very easily make mistakes that will make it much more difficult to minimize your sentence or avoid a conviction.

Of course, you also need to appear in court when you are required to do so. If you miss a court date, this can have severe consequences as well—including the judge issuing a bench warrant for your arrest. Your criminal defense lawyer can help make sure you appear in court when you are supposed to, and your lawyer can represent you during all pre-trial proceedings so that you do not inadvertently make mistakes that jeopardize your defense.

2. Seeking a Reduced Charge

Under South Carolina law, there are several different “classes” of felonies and misdemeanors. One way a lawyer may be able to help if you have committed a crime is by negotiating with the prosecution to secure a lesser charge. Lesser charges carry lesser penalties; and, if you are awaiting trial on a felony, reducing your charge to a misdemeanor could save you from many undesirable consequences.

To be clear, this is not an option in all cases. If prosecutors believe they have a strong case, they may not be willing to consider a charge reduction. But, the only way to find out is to hire a lawyer to represent you. Your lawyer will be able to examine the circumstances of your case to determine if this is a viable strategy; and, if it is, your attorney will be able to use his or her experience to negotiate on your behalf.

3. Seeking a Reduced Sentence

In South Carolina, all crimes carry a range of possible sentences. If it is not possible to get your charge reduced (or have your charge dismissed entirely), then the next best option may be to focus on reducing your sentence.

This is something that your criminal defense lawyer can do during the pre-trial phase of your case as well. Whether the circumstances of your case warrant a mitigated sentence or the prosecutor’s office is overloaded and simply needs to get cases off of its docket, there are a number of potential strategies for targeting a reduced sentence in South Carolina.

4. Helping You Seek Entry Into a Diversionary Program

If this is your first time being charged with a crime, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you seek entry into one of South Carolina’s diversionary programs. These are programs that allow eligible first-time offenders to avoid a conviction regardless of guilt—if they meet certain conditions.

If you are eligible for a diversionary program—and if this appears to be the only way to avoid a conviction based on the facts of your case—you will want to work with a lawyer to gain entry into the appropriate program. Your lawyer can also tell you what you need to do in order to complete the program successfully.

5. Asserting Your Constitutional Rights

Even if you committed a crime, you may be entitled to an acquittal if the police violated your constitutional rights. For example, if the police violated your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the prosecution’s evidence may be inadmissible, and it may have no way to convict you. An experienced South Carolina criminal defense lawyer can determine whether your rights were violated and assert all available constitutional defenses on your behalf.

6. Carefully Selecting the Jurors Who Will Hear Your Case

In a jury trial, one of the first steps is to select the jurors who will hear your case. This is a strategic process, and there are many different factors to consider when narrowing down the list of potential jurors. With the right jury, you can reduce your risk of facing a conviction and harsh sentencing at trial.

7. Challenging the Prosecution’s Case in Court

Finally, if going to trial is your best option, your criminal defense lawyer can challenge the prosecution’s case I court. Your lawyer can expose flaws in the prosecution’s case, present evidence on your behalf, and argue for a “not guilty” verdict in front of the judge and jury. Making an effective case at trial requires years of legal experience, and an experienced lawyer will be able to guide your case toward a favorable result—taking into consideration the circumstances at hand.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation with Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael L. Brown, Jr.

Are you facing a criminal charge and concerned that you will be found guilty in court? If so, you should speak with a lawyer promptly. To discuss your case with Rock Hill, SC criminal defense lawyer Michael L. Brown, Jr., please call 803-328-8822 or contact us online today.

Can You Avoid a Conviction By Entering a Diversion Program in South Carolina?

Can You Avoid a Conviction By Entering a Diversion Program in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, having a criminal conviction on your record can impact many different aspects of your life. Even once you have served your sentence, your conviction could make it more difficult to find housing or get a loan, and you will likely find that you are passed over for many jobs for which you are otherwise qualified.

As a result, if you are facing a criminal charge, you need to do everything you possibly can to avoid a conviction. While this might mean fighting your charge in court, it could also mean entering into one of South Carolina’s diversion programs.

What is a Diversion Program?

A diversion program is an option that is available to criminal defendants in South Carolina who have been charged with certain types of crimes and traffic offenses. When you are enrolled in the program, you will be subject to terms that are similar to the terms of probation. However, if you complete the program successfully, then you will be eligible to have your charge dismissed without the need to go to trial.

Entering into a Diversion Program is a way to ensure that your record remains clean of any convictions—as long as you are prepared to comply with the terms and conditions of the program.

What Diversion Programs are Available to Criminal Defendants in South Carolina?

The State of South Carolina has established four diversion programs that are available to qualifying adult offenders. There is also a Juvenile Arbitration program for minors who have been charged with juvenile offenses.

Alcohol Education Program (AEP)

The Alcohol Education Program (AEP) is a diversion program that is available to individuals between the ages of 17 and 20 who are facing alcohol-related charges as a first-time offender. As explained by the City of Rock Hill:

“The purpose of AEP is to discourage underage drinking and to educate eligible participants as to the potential personal, social and legal risks of alcohol use. You must . . . have no significant prior criminal history, and have been charged with Minor in Possession of Alcohol, Open Container and/or Possession of False Identification. Offenders are only eligible to participate in AEP one time. After completion of the program, [you] may pay a fee for an Expungement Order which will clear [your] record . . . .”

If you enroll in the AEP, you are given 60 days to complete a series of requirements. These requirements include (but may not be limited to): (i) eight hours of counseling, (ii) twenty hours of community service, and (iii) assigned homework. The total fees for the program are approximately $600.

Drug Court

Drug Court is a diversion program that is available to individuals who have been charged with certain drug and alcohol-related offenses. As summarized by the Solicitor’s Office for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit (which encompasses York County), “Drug Court is an opportunity for nonviolent criminal offenders, who are dependent on alcohol/other drugs, to receive addiction treatment and rehabilitative services to address dissocial/criminal behavior instead of incarceration.”

The Drug Court program requires participation for a minimum of 18 months; and, in order to enroll, you must receive a referral. This referral can come from your criminal defense attorney. You must also be 17 years of age or older, have a clean criminal record, and have access to reliable transportation. While enrolled, you will be required to stay off of alcohol and drugs, attend education courses and counseling, and meet various other daily requirements.

Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI)

Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) is a diversion program that is available to first-time non-violent offenders in South Carolina. Entering the PTI program, “allows the defendant to be diverted from court and enter into a program consisting of counseling, education, community service work, restitution, drug testing, and prison tours.” If you successfully complete your PTI, you can apply for expungement, and at the end of the process your record will be wiped clean.

Participating in a PTI program is an intensive process, and you will need to make sure you have a clear understanding of everything you are required to do (and not do). If you fail to meet any of the program’s requirements, your case can be put back on track for trial, and you will not be eligible to re-enter the program.

Traffic Education Program (TEP)

The Traffic Education Program (TEP) is a diversion program that is available in cases involving traffic tickets that carry four points or less (for all charges combined). In order to enter the program, you must not have a “significant” driving record, and you must not have participated in the program previously. Once you enter the program, you will have 120 days to complete four hours of defensive driving training, complete four hours of community service, pay the required fees, and meet certain other requirements.

Juvenile Arbitration

The Juvenile Arbitration program affords minors who have been charged with juvenile offenses the opportunity to close their cases without going to court. Similar to PTI, it is available to first-time non-violent offenders. As the Solicitor’s Office for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit explains:

“At the [arbitration] hearing, the juvenile comes face to face with the victim, arresting officer, and his/her parents. Once the juvenile is willing to admit his or her guilt to the crime, a process of sanctioning begins. Sanctions are tasks that are placed upon the juvenile by the volunteer arbitrator with the assistance of the victim, officer, and the juvenile’s parents.”

Once sanctions have been imposed, the juvenile has 90 days to complete them. Similar to the other diversion programs discussed above, successful completion leads to dismissal, while failure to adhere to the terms of the program results in the juvenile’s case going to court.

Discuss Your Options with a Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Confidence

Are you eligible to avoid a conviction by participating in one of South Carolina’s diversion programs? If so, is this your best option? To find out, schedule a confidential consultation at The Law Offices of Michael L. Brown, Jr.Call 803-328-8822 or tell us how we can reach you online now.

What NOT To Do if You are Facing a Criminal Charge in South Carolina

What NOT To Do if You are Facing a Criminal Charge in South Carolina

If you are facing a criminal charge in South Carolina, there are some steps you need to take in order to give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding a conviction at trial. Most importantly, you need to make sure you show up for your court date, and you need to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight your charge on your behalf.

But, in addition to taking these steps, there are some things you need to avoid doing as well. Too often, defendants make mistakes that end up making it more difficult to fight their charges in court. If you are not careful, your own words and actions could be used against you, and you could find yourself serving a sentence that could – and should – have been avoided.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Facing a Criminal Charge in South Carolina

The criminal justice system is complicated; and, as a defendant, you will be at a disadvantage if you don’t know how to assert your legal rights effectively. Mistakes can jeopardize your defense as well, and you need to make sure you know what NOT to do in order to avoid unnecessary consequences. With this in mind, here are five examples of mistakes to avoid when facing a criminal charge in South Carolina:

1. Do NOT Get Arrested Again

First and foremost, if you are awaiting trial on criminal charges, you do not want to get arrested again. While this does not have any bearing on your guilt or innocence in your current case, it could have an impact on your sentencing if you are not able to avoid a conviction. It could also impact the judge’s decision regarding bail.

For example, in many cases, it will be possible for first-time offenders to enter into diversion programs. These programs “divert” your case from trial, and successfully completing a diversion program can help you avoid a criminal record. However, if you get arrested again while your case is pending, the judge, prosecutor, or both may be less inclined to offer this as an option. Additionally, if you get convicted in your current case, then you could be at risk for enhanced penalties in your subsequent case as a repeat offender.

2. Do NOT Say Anything to the Police

As a criminal defendant in South Carolina, you have the right to remain silent. This means that you do not have to answer any questions from the police, except for basic questions about your identity and where you live. While you might think that answering a few questions will be harmless – especially if you do not think you have anything to hide – there are several reasons why you do not want to take the risk of talking to the police following your arrest.

What if it is too late? In other words, what if you already gave a statement to the police? In order to determine the consequences, you will need to discuss your statement with your defense attorney. Your attorney will be able to determine what impact (if any) your statement will have on your defense, and he or she will be able to determine if you have grounds to argue that your statement should be excluded from evidence in your case as well.

3. Do NOT Assume You are Innocent

Regardless of the facts of your case, you should not assume that you are innocent. If you do, and if you do not take your case seriously, you could find yourself facing an unexpected sentence. South Carolina’s criminal laws are complicated; and, even if you do not think you committed a crime, it could still be the case that your conduct amounts to a violation of South Carolina law.

Furthermore, even if you are innocent, you will need to successfully defend yourself during the pre-trial process—and at trial if necessary. Wrongful convictions happen (at an alarming rate), and it is up to you to convince the judge or jury that the prosecutor’s office cannot meet its burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

4. Do NOT Assume You Will Be Found Guilty

Just as you should not assume that you are innocent, you also should not assume that you will be found guilty. Regardless of what you did or did not do, you could have defenses that entitle you to a “not guilty” verdict at trial. For example, if the police interrogated you in custody and obtained a confession without reading your Miranda rights, then your confession may be inadmissible in court. If the prosecution’s other evidence is insufficient to prove your guilt, then you may be entitled to walk free.

One of the most common misconceptions people have about the criminal justice system is that the truth will prevail if you are innocent, and the system will get you if you are guilty. While this is true in some cases, innocent people get convicted, and guilty people walk free. The outcome of your case will depend on the effort that you put into your defense, and you need to make informed decisions based on the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

5. Do NOT Underestimate the Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

Finally, when facing a criminal charge in South Carolina, you must not underestimate the consequences of a conviction. South Carolina law imposes substantial penalties for felonies and misdemeanors, and a conviction can have various collateral consequences as well. Before you make any assumptions or any decisions about how you will approach your defense, you need to make sure you have a clear understanding of what is at stake, and you need to appreciate what a conviction could mean for the rest of your life.

Request a Confidential Consultation with Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael L. Brown

Are you facing a criminal charge in South Carolina state court in the Rock Hill area? To discuss your case with criminal defense attorney Michael L. Brown in confidence, call 803-328-8822 or request an appointment online now.

Should You Testify in Your South Carolina Criminal Case?

Should You Testify in Your South Carolina Criminal Case?

If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, you have the right to testify in your own defense at your trial. But, while you can testify at your trial, this does not necessarily mean that you should take the stand. Although testifying can help in some cases, it can also be very risky. As a result, before deciding to proclaim your innocence before the jury in open court, you need to seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

As a Criminal Defendant in South Carolina, You Have the Right to Testify

As a defendant in South Carolina’s criminal justice system, whether you choose to testify is completely up to you. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as guaranteeing defendants the right to testify if they choose to do so. As a defendant, you can also waive your right to testify—and this is one right that it will make sense to waive in many cases. As we discuss in greater detail below, you open yourself up to cross-examination by the prosecution if you testify. Various other concerns will make testifying on your own behalf ill-advised in many cases.

What are the Risks of Testifying at Your Own Criminal Trial?

In our experience, most people who want to testify in their own defense fall into one of two categories—either (i) they believe they are innocent and want to tell the jury the truth, or (ii) they are concerned that waiving their right to testify will make them look guilty.

However, several considerations go into deciding whether to testify, and the decision is not nearly as straightforward as it may initially seem. This is true, regardless of your innocence or guilt. For example, some of the risks of testifying at your own criminal trial in South Carolina include:

1. Jurors Might Think You are Lying

Even if you are 100% convinced that you are innocent, the jurors who decide your fate still might not believe you. Unfortunately, despite the protections built into the jury selection system, many jurors are still biased toward believing that someone who is on trial is more likely to be guilty than innocent. So, no matter how well you represent yourself on the witness stand, and no matter how compelling a story you tell, there is still a chance that members of the jury will question your integrity. If they decide that you are lying, then your decision to testify could end up harming your chances of avoiding a conviction.

2. Your Words Might Not Come Across as You Intend

Even if everyone on the jury believes you, your words might not come across as you intend. For example, you might think you are presenting an effective case for why you should walk free, but members of the jury might interpret your words differently. If you are going to testify, you need to be certain of what you are going to say, and you need to be as certain as possible that the jurors will understand and accept your point of view.

3. You Might Slip Up and Say the Wrong Thing

Testifying in court can be stressful even when you are simply a witness in someone else’s trial. When you face months or years of incarceration, taking the stand can be an extremely high-stress ordeal. As a result, in many cases, defendants slip up and say the wrong thing. They get nervous, flustered, or lose their train of thought, and they say things that they never intended to say. While some mistakes can be corrected, it will not be possible to erase what was said from the jurors’ minds in many cases.

4. If You Testify in Your Defense, the Prosecution Can Cross-Examine You

Finally, and most importantly, in many respects, if you choose to testify in your own defense, the prosecution will be able to cross-examine you on the witness stand. You cannot take the stand, answer questions from your attorney, and then refuse to answer the prosecution questions. You still have your Fifth Amendment rights – so you can still assert your privilege against self-incrimination if necessary – but this can potentially paint a very undesirable picture in the minds of the jury.

What are the Benefits of Testifying at Your Criminal Trial?

Knowing these risks, when might it make sense to take the witness stand during your criminal case? Depending on the specific circumstances involved, situations in which testifying can help improve your chances of securing a “not guilty” verdict at trial include:

  • You Have an Unassailable Alibi – If you have a clear alibi, then it might make sense for you to take the stand and testify as to where you were and what you were doing when the alleged crime took place.
  • You Made Self-Incriminating Statements to the Police – If you made self-incriminating statements to the police during or after your arrest, testifying could help clarify your prior statements and set the record straight.
  • The Jury has Turned Against You – If your attorney has the sense that the jury is turning against you, then testifying on your own behalf could be a strategy for getting at least some of the jurors back on your side.
  • The Prosecution’s Witnesses Lack Credibility – If the prosecution is primarily relying on witnesses’ testimony to prove its case, then challenging those witnesses’ credibility will likely be a key component of your defense strategy. If you can come off as more credible than the prosecution’s witnesses, then testifying could help to bolster this defense strategy as well.

Discuss Your Case with a Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Attorney

Are you facing criminal charges in South Carolina? If so, you must speak with a defense attorney immediately. To discuss your case with a criminal lawyer at our Rock Hill, SC law offices in confidence, call 803-328-8822 or request an appointment online now.

Should You Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent After an Arrest in South Carolina?

Should You Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent After an Arrest in South Carolina?

Once you are arrested and taken into custody in South Carolina, you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to respond to police interrogation, and you do not have to testify at your trial. This right is rooted in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself [or herself].”

Also known as the privilege against self-incrimination, the right to remain silent is essential for criminal defendants in South Carolina. If individuals who have committed crimes could be forced to answer police questions or testify in court, they would have no choice but to either: (i) admit to committing a crime; or (ii) lie to avoid confessing, which is itself a criminal offense.

So, you have the right to remain silent—should you use it? What if you are innocent? Is there ever a situation in which you should agree to talk to the police or testify in your own defense at trial?

If You Have Been Arrested in South Carolina, You Should Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent

Regardless of whether you are certain that you are innocent or believe that you are guilty, you should exercise your right to remain silent if you get arrested in South Carolina. This applies if the police read your Miranda rights, but it also applies if they don’t. Failure to read your Miranda rights is not a “get out of jail free” card, and the police do not necessarily have to read your rights immediately upon arresting you. Rather than identifying yourself, you do not have to provide any information, and as a general rule, you should not do so.

But what if you don’t have anything to hide? Even if you don’t think you have committed a crime, you should still politely decline to answer any questions during or after your arrest. This is because:

  • You could be wrong; and, even though you think you are innocent, you may have committed a crime under South Carolina law.
  • Talking to the police will only lead to more questions, and it could lead to additional investigation even if you have not committed a crime.
  • Police and prosecutors know your rights, and exercising your right to remain silent does not “make you look guilty,” as many people mistakenly believe.

When you get arrested in South Carolina, in addition to the right to remain silent, you also have the right legal counsel. To protect yourself after your arrest, the best thing you can do is say that you will not be answering any questions and that you would like to speak with a lawyer.

You Should Continue to Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent Unless Your Attorney Advises Otherwise

As your criminal case progresses, you should continue to exercise your right to remain silent unless your attorney advises you otherwise. Generally speaking. However, your attorney will communicate with the police and prosecutors on your behalf throughout your case. This ensures that you don’t say anything you shouldn’t, and it avoids the risk of having the police talking you into answering questions or providing information when it is not in your best interests to do so.

In limited circumstances, your attorney might advise you to speak with the police. However, your attorney should always be present for these discussions. Your attorney will be able to ensure that the line of questioning is appropriate, and he or she will be able to stop you if you begin to say something that could be used against you at your criminal trial.

Whether You Should Testify at Your Trial Depends on the Specific Facts of Your Case

Speaking of the trial, as a defendant, should you ever testify on your own behalf? In some cases, yes, it will make sense to do so. However, whether you should testify in your criminal case depends on numerous different factors. Your criminal defense attorney will need to make a strategic decision based upon all of the specific facts and circumstances at hand.

What Happens if You Don’t Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent?

If you fail to exercise your right to remain silent, then anything you say can be used against you in your criminal case. This is true whether you knowingly waive your rights or you inadvertently provide a statement when you are not constitutionally required to do so.

If the police fail to read your Miranda rights, this might provide grounds for having your statement deemed inadmissible in court. But, this is far from guaranteed. Many police investigators are very good at what they do. Not only do they know how to wait for the last possible moment to read suspects’ Miranda rights, but they also know how to gather information without suspects realizing that they are incriminating themselves.

The main risk associated with testifying at your own trial comes from the fact that, if you choose to testify, the prosecution has the ability to conduct a cross-examination. While you can prepare your “direct” trial testimony in advance, you cannot always be prepared for what prosecutors will ask you on the stand. If you contradict yourself, if you get angry or flustered, or if you make any other mistakes on cross-examination, you could very well find yourself facing a guilty verdict that you could – and should – have avoided.

Request a Free Consultation with Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Attorney Michael L. Brown

Have you been arrested for a crime in South Carolina? If so, we encourage you to contact us immediately—before you talk to the police or go to court for your bond hearing or first appearance. To discuss your case with Rock Hill, SC criminal defense attorney Michael L. Brown in confidence, call 803-328-8822 or tell us how we can reach you online now.

When are You Entitled to a Public Defender in a South Carolina Criminal Case?

When are You Entitled to a Public Defender in a South Carolina Criminal Case?

“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” This well-known portion of the Miranda warning addresses criminal defendants’ constitutional right to legal representation under the Sixth Amendment. However, if you have been arrested and charged with a crime, your Sixth Amendment rights do not automatically guarantee you free legal representation by a public defender. Instead, you must demonstrate that you qualify, and you must successfully apply to have a public defender assigned to your case.

In South Carolina, the public defender system is administered by the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense (SCCID). The SCCID operates pursuant to Chapter 3 of Title 17 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, which establishes the rights and responsibilities of indigent defendants. If you have been charged with a crime and are interested in having a public defender appointed to represent you, you need to make sure that (i) you qualify and (ii) hiring a public defender is truly in your best interests.

Here are some key facts to consider:

1. Appointment of a Public Defender is Not Automatic

Hiring a public defender to handle your case is not as simple as telling the police that you need an attorney. Section 17-3-10 of the South Carolina Code of Laws states:

“Any person entitled to counsel under the Constitution of the United States shall be so advised and if it is determined that the person is financially unable to retain counsel then counsel shall be provided upon order of the appropriate judge . . . .”

There are two critically important aspects of Section 17-3-10. First, you are only entitled to a public defender if “it is determined” that you lack the financial resources to hire a private attorney. Second, obtaining representation by a public defender requires an order from a judge.

In order to demonstrate that you qualify to have a public defender appointed, you must sign an affidavit which states that you are “financially unable to retain counsel.” The affidavit must also include a list of all of your assets. Under Section 17-3-30 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, “If it appears that [you have] some assets but they are insufficient to employ private counsel, the court, in its discretion, may order [you] to pay these assets to the general fund of the State.” Receiving representation from a public defender also creates a claim against your assets and estate, “in an amount equal to the costs of representation,” unless the judge waives this requirement in his or her discretion.

2. Your Income Must Fall Below the Federal Poverty Level

In South Carolina, a person is only considered “financially unable to retain counsel” if his or her income falls below the federal poverty level—although judges have the discretion to appoint counsel to individuals whose income does not fall below the federal poverty level in some cases. As explained by the SCCID, “To qualify to have an attorney appointed to represent you, a number of factors are considered to determine if you are indigent. Those factors include, but are not limited to, your income, property you may own, the number of people in your household and their income, your debts, and the US Poverty Guidelines.”

For individuals who are single and have no children, the federal poverty level is $12,140 in annual income. If you are married without children, the federal poverty level is $16,460. The federal poverty level increases by approximately $4,000 for each additional member of your family.

3. Public Defenders are Extremely Busy

While many public defenders are very good at what they do, they are also extremely busy. In York County, which has a population of approximately 275,000, there are just 13 public defenders. Statewide, there are approximately 200 South Carolina public defenders. Even with the screening of indigent defendants and the requirement for judicial approval, public defenders often find themselves overwhelmed with cases, and this means that they only have so much time to devote to each individual defendant.

4. Public Defenders Cannot Handle Appeals or Petitions for Post-Conviction Relief

In South Carolina, public defenders are not assigned to handle appeals. As a result, if you are convicted in court and need to appeal your sentence, you will need to hire another attorney. While you may be eligible for representation by the SCCID’s Division of Appellate Defense, this will mean working with a new attorney, and the Division of Appellate Defense only handles about 1,000 appeals statewide each year.

Likewise, public defenders cannot provide representation for petitions for post-conviction relief. These proceedings fall outside of the scope of the SCCID’s services, which are limited to criminal trials and appeals.

5. Even if You are Eligible for a Public Defender, it May Is in Your Best Interests to Hire a Private Attorney

With all of this in mind, even if you are eligible to have a public defender appointed to represent you, it may still be in your best interest to hire a private attorney. This is particularly true if you have been charged with a crime that carries substantial penalties under South Carolina law. When you hire a private attorney, not only do you get to choose who will be fighting for your freedom in court, but you have the opportunity to choose a lawyer who controls his or her own caseload.

When you are facing a criminal charge in South Carolina, your choice of legal representation matters immensely. If you have questions or would like more information about the options that are available to you, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential consultation.

Speak with a Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Confidence

Located in Rock Hill, our firm provides legal representation for individuals who are facing criminal charges in York County and the surrounding areas. To discuss your case with one of our criminal defense lawyers, call us at 803-328-8822 or request an appointment online today.

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