criminal defense lawyer, circuit court, criminal court
As a criminal defense lawyer in Charleston, we see many of the same questions arise again and again. Below are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions…

What Is General Sessions Court?
South Carolina Circuit Courts are divided into two divisions:

1) General Sessions (criminal court)
General Sessions Court handles felony and misdemeanor criminal cases ranging from those with a penalty of more than 30 days and/or a $500 fine to those carrying the death penalty.

2) Common Pleas (civil court)
The Magistrate and Municipal court system handles misdemeanor offenses with a penalty of 30 days or less and / or a fine of up to

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

Felony and misdemeanor are legal terms describing the seriousness of a crime. A felony is a very serious crime. Felonies generally carry long prison sentences of a year or more. Examples of a felony are attempted
murder and cocaine trafficking. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime. Misdemeanors carry shorter
prison sentences. Examples of misdemeanor crimes include simple possession of marijuana, simple assault and battery, and tampering with an electric meter.

State law classifies crimes as felonies and others as misdemeanors. A criminal defense lawyer will be able to inform you where your charge falls.

What are the steps in a criminal case?
After an arrest, a General Sessions case usually follows these steps:

1. Bond hearing. This hearing occurs within 24 hours of arrest. The judge determines whether a person held in
custody can be released on bond. The judge evaluates whether the defendant is a danger to the community or is
likely to run away before trial. If a judge decides to release someone on bond, he sets the amount and
conditions of the bond.

2. Preliminary hearing. These hearings are available to defendants charged with serious offenses triable only in General Sessions Court. The defendant has the right to request a preliminary hearing within 10 days of the bond hearing.

3. Grand Jury. A Grand Jury is a panel of citizens convened by the court to decide whether it is appropriate to bring charges against someone suspected of a crime. If the Grand Jury decides there is reason to bring someone to trial, it returns a “true bill” and issues an indictment. If it finds insufficient reason, it returns a “no bill.” A direct indictment is an indictment that occurs before an arrest. In this case, the defendant or his attorney arranges for the person to turn themselves into the police for processing and a bond hearing.

4. First appearance (“Roll Call”). The first court date, known as “roll call,” is set within 45 days of arrest. Courts usually hold these on Fridays. The judge or solicitor asks the defendant or his lawyer basic questions. The judge also puts the case on a schedule. The purpose of the first appearance is to make sure the defendant will appear at trial and that he has access to a lawyer. If the defendant fails to appear, the judge will issue a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest.

5. Second appearance. The second court date is set within 120 days of arrest. Courts usually hold these on Fridays. The defendant tells the judge whether he wants to plead guilty or request a jury trial. The judge places the case on either a plea or a trial schedule. If the defendant fails to appear, the judge will issue a bench warrant for the defendants arrest. Trial. During a jury trial, the jury listens to evidence and
determines if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge imposes a
sentence, which can include imprisonment, fines, probation, and death.

6. Appeals. The defendant has 10 days after sentencing to file an appeal of a guilty plea or trial verdict. Most appeals go to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Appellate courts look for legal error in the conduct of the trial, but they cannot retry any facts already decided by a jury at trial. Defendants, witnesses, and others do not participate at this stage. If the appellate court finds legal error, it can send the case back to General Sessions Court for retrial or sentencing.

7. Post-Conviction Relief (“PCR”). This process must begin within one year of sentencing or the end of appeals. Handled by the Courts of Common Pleas, PCR cases usually involve a challenge to the legal representation provided by the defense lawyer at trial. If the court chooses to grant PCR, it sends the case back to General Sessions for a new trial.

If you are in need of a criminal defense lawyer, contact Clekis Law Firm. Their criminal defense lawyers can help you navigate through each step on the process.