Criminal defendants who have been formally charged with a crime often fall to the criminal court process in South Carolina despite laws whose purpose is to ensure the accused receives a fair trial.
Once a criminal defendant has been charged the next phase of the process involves determining whether the accused can be found legally responsible for criminal violations contained in the formal charges.
At the defendant is informed of the charges made against them. At this point, the accused will enter a formal plea to the court. The defendant may choose from the following appeals:
Not Guilty Plea
When a defendant pleads “not guilty” to a charge, he or she believes that they cannot be found guilty of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. With a not guilty plea, the case will forward to the trial face.
When a defendant pleads “guilty” to a charge, the defendant waives his or her right to trial. The defendant, with a guilty plea, is admitting the charges and states that he or she is ready to be sentenced.
No Contest (Nolo Contendere) Plea
When a defendant pleads “no contest” (nolo contendre) the defendant is telling the court that he or she does not wish to contest the charges but, does not admit guilt. A no-contest plea is often made if a defendant may be liable for civil damages arising from the conduct involved in the criminal case. After a no-contest plea, the case moves on to sentencing, and the defendant will be sentenced as if he or she pleads guilty.
If a case moves forward to trial, the discovery phase begins in which evidence that will be used at trial by the prosecution and defense is exchanged.
Discovery Under the Brady Rule
Under what is known Brady Rule the prosecution is required to provide material to a criminal defendant which may help establish their innocence (exculpatory evidence) and evidence which may be used to call into the question the testimony of adverse witnesses (impeachment evidence). Open file discovery takes the process of disclosure in a criminal case beyond the Brady Rule, where the prosecution will provide the defendant access to the entire investigative file rather than a declaration of exculpatory or impeachment evidence.
Going to Criminal Trial
During a jury trial, the jury listens to the 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.
A criminal defendant has a right to a jury trial in any criminal proceeding where the defendant faces a potential sentence of longer than six months. However, a defendant may elect to have a judge hear his or her case in a bench trial.
A defendant is presumed innocent, which requires the prosecution to carry the burden of showing that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
At trial, a defendant through his or her lawyer may cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and present their evidence. The prosecution must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for each charge to secure a conviction. The defendant is not required to present evidence and often will not testify on his or her behalf at trial.
Sentencing After a Guilty Plea
A defendant who is found guilty will be sentenced according to the type of punishment allowed by the South Carolina Criminal Code. Punishment for crimes in South Carolina can range from probation, fines, and jail time. What sentence is handed down by the court will depend on the sentencing designated in the South Carolina Criminal Code.
At sentencing, the judge will consider the conduct in which the defendant was found guilty, the defendant’s criminal history, social and family factors that may have contributed to the crime, the risk of the defendant reoffending and several other factors.
Filing an Appeal
In South Carolina, a criminal defendant may appeal his or her conviction and sentence. On appeal, the defendant can only allege that there was a legal error committed by the court in how the case was tried and decided. An appeal cannot be used to relitigate facts.
The notice of appeal must be filed within ten days of the sentence being issued to a defendant after his or her conviction. If the case did not involve a penalty but was on an issue such as the revocation of probation, it must be filed within ten days of the final judgment being issued by the court.
Call an Edgefield Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you have been arrested or are being investigated for a crime, contact an experienced Edgefield criminal defense lawyer for a confidential case evaluation as soon as possible to protect your legal rights. An Edgefield criminal defense lawyer can advise you of the risk involved with the charges and the best defense strategy.