If you have been arrested by a police officer and ordered to appear in either a Municipal Court or Magistrate's Court or have been issued a Summons for a traffic offense or other minor offense to appear in a Magistrate's Court or Municipal Court, you should appear at the time stated on the Summons or arrest warrant. If you fail to appear in Court at that time, you will be tried in your absence and probably will be found guilty.
When you appear in Court, the judge will ask whether you wish to plead guilty or not guilty. If you wish to plead guilty, then the proceedings will be relatively short and the judge will decide what sort of fine or jail sentence to impose. If you are going to plead guilty but feel like you want to be represented by lawyer, you have that right. Your lawyer should appear with you any time you go to court. If you cannot afford one, ask the judge to determine if you qualify for an appointed lawyer.
If you will plead not guilty, you should explain that to the judge. You have the right to a lawyer to assist you at the trial. If you cannot afford one, ask the judge to determine if you qualify for an appointed lawyer. You must tell the judge whether you wish to have a jury trial or to be tried only by the judge. If you wish to be tried by the judge, then the trial probably will be held immediately. The judge will ask the arresting police officer or the complaining witnesses to tell his or her side of the story. After each witness for the prosecution has testified against you, you have the right to ask each witness questions. After the prosecution testimony, you have the right to present witnesses to testify for you.
You also have the right to testify for yourself, or the right not to testify. REMEMBER: If you go to Court and plan to plead not guilty and also intend to be tried by a judge without a jury, you should have your witnesses with you when you go to Court the first time.
If you think that you cannot get those witnesses to come to Court, then you should contact the judge before your Court date. Ask the judge to issue subpoenas which require your witnesses to come to court for your trial.
If you plan to ask for a jury trial, that is your right and the judge must grant you a jury trial. You should tell the judge at the first Court appearance that you wish to have a jury trial. The judge will tell you a day to come back to court to pick a jury, however some judges will select a jury on the first day you appear in Court.
When you have a jury trial, the same procedure applies as was explained to you in the non-jury trial. If you are found guilty either after a jury trial or after trial by a judge, the judge will then decide what sentence to impose. Most offenses which are tried in either the Magistrate's Court or Municipal Court carry fines and/or jail sentences. If the judge decides to sentence you to jail, you will have to go to jail immediately unless you immediately file a Notice of Intention to Appeal to the Circuit Court, as required by court rules.
If you file Notice of Intention to Appeal, you should ask the judge to set an appeal bond. It is required that a judge set an appeal bond if you are appealing the judge's order. If you can pay this appeal bond, you will not have to go to jail immediately.
You should always remember that you have some significant rights whenever you are ordered to appear in court on criminal charges. This information is intended to make you aware of these rights so you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to exercise those rights. If you feel that you need a more detailed explanation about your rights in Magistrate's or Municipal Court, you should consult a lawyer before you go to Court.
This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.