Three Myths of Criminal Court
Founding Attorney, Goodwin Attorney at Law, LLC
I have worked in the criminal justice system of South Carolina for over 20 years. I have been a prosecutor in both General Sessions (“big court”) and Summary or Municipal Court. I have defended all sorts of cases from murder to DUI. Every time I think I have heard or seen everything, I am reminded that such a feat is not possible. My clients always seem to find another niche of the law for me to ponder. But there are a few myths that come up again and again in criminal defense work. It is my belief that these myths are planted and nurtured by the “jailhouse lawyers.” Desperate people believe these myths in hopes of finding the magic way out of trouble. These defendants would be better served if they were simply properly represented and followed the advice of counsel.
This writing is devoted to debunking some common myths that are routinely stated to me as fact by defendants in criminal cases.
- “The State has to make me three offers before I plead guilty.” WRONG! You have a right to a trial by jury. You have no right to plead guilty. The State is not required to make you any plea offers at all. If the State does make you a plea offer, you should consider the evidence against you and weigh your chance of conviction by a jury and that possible punishment against what is offered to you. Typically plea “bargains” are offered to induce guilty pleas and move the State’s docket along. They generally are for a lesser charge or lesser sentence. Some general rules to consider are that if a plea offer changes a violent charge to a non-violent charge, it can considerably reduce the potential for actual jail time. If a plea offer is for probation, then the immediate risk of incarceration is gone, but a long term risk of incarceration remains if the probation is violated.
- “I am entitled to a bond hearing every thirty days.” WRONG. You are entitled to a bond hearing. Once bond is set or denied, you do not have a right to go back to Court every thirty days to ask that the bond be set or lowered. Just because you cannot pay a bond does not mean that the bond is unreasonable. The criteria for bond are whether the Defendant is a threat to the community or a flight risk. If you are out on bond and are arrested again, most Judges will deem you a risk to the community.
- “My charges will be thrown out because the police did not read me my rights.” WRONG. Miranda rights are only required during custodial interrogations by the police. In those situations, law enforcement presents the person giving a statement with a waiver of rights form that is signed and made part of the investigation. If the police do not question you, they do not have to read you your rights. If you blurt something out to the police, that statement is likely admissible whether or not the police have read you your rights. In all cases, you do have a right to remain silent. It is most prudent to remain silent. In my experience, remaining silent is very difficult for defendants to do. Consequently, they are often convicted with their own statements.
What you can and should do is protect yourself legitimately and intelligently. If you find yourself charged with a crime, be quiet. Do not make any statements. Resist the temptation to explain yourself. Retain a lawyer immediately. Make sure that attorney is well versed in criminal defense. Your entire future may depend on it.