One Incident, Multiple Courts - Understanding South Carolina’s Multi-Tiered Court System
Did you know that out of one criminal incident, you could land in multiple criminal courts?
South Carolina has a multi-tiered court system.
The Court of General Sessions has jurisdiction over cases that carry a potential penalty of 30 days or more.
The magistrate and municipal courts have jurisdiction over cases that carry a potential penalty of 30 days or less.
Municipal courts handle cases that carry a potential of 30 days or less within city limits. Magistrate courts handle cases that carry a potential penalty of 30 days or less that are not within a municipal jurisdiction.
There are also types of cases where the courts have overlapping jurisdiction. Driving Under Suspension 3rd offense and Failure to Register as a Sex Offender 1st offense are just two examples of cases where overlapping jurisdiction exists.
By way of example, let's say driver A gets pulled over for speeding in the city limits. Driver A then gives a false name to the police officer. The police officer decides that Driver A is acting nervous and claims to smell marijuana. The police officer then searches the car and finds a large amount of marijuana inside. Driver A then resists arrest.
This one example gives rise to the following charges: Speeding, Hindering and Obstructing an Officer, Possession with intent to Distribute Marijuana, and Resisting Arrest. The Speeding and Hindering and Obstructing an Officer will be handled in municipal court. The Possession with intent to Distribute Marijuana and Resisting Arrest will be handled in General Sessions Court. Driver A will have separate court dates, separate judges, and even a separate prosecutor for these two sets of charges, all out of one traffic stop.
To make matters even more confusing, Driver A will have a preliminary hearing on the General Sessions charges of Possession with intent to Distribute Marijuana and Resisting Arrest, but that preliminary hearing will be held in municipal court. That preliminary hearing in municipal court will have nothing to do with the two other municipal court charges of Speeding and Hindering and Obstructing an Officer!
It is very common in these scenarios for the criminal defendant to get confused, miss a court date, or misunderstand which charges have been resolved.
That is why it is critical for anyone charged with a crime to hire a lawyer as soon as possible. It is much more effective for your lawyer to represent you from the beginning, than to have to go back and get cases reopened or bench warrants lifted when you accidentally miss a court date because you were confused by this convoluted aspect of our court system.
At Erin Bailey Law, the first thing we do is catalog all of the charges against you, list out which court they are in, and put each court date into the client portal so that you receive email reminders of what is coming up. Often, we can get you excused from one or more court dates.