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Criminal Defense

Do I have a right to a jury trial in misdemeanor cases?

The Law of South Carolina gives all persons accused of crimes in South Carolina the right to a trial by jury. In some states, the right to trial by jury does not exist in magistrate, municipal, or summary courts or exists in only a very limited fashion. In South Carolina, all individuals enjoy the full right to trials by six or twelve person juries.

The Harris Law Firm encourages all individuals who are accused of criminal offenses, even of a minor nature, to consult with an attorney of their choice before making an initial court appearance where they might be expected or asked to waive their right to trial by jury. The Harris Law Firm is available for free initial consultation on all questions concerning the right to trial by jury in misdemeanor cases.

Do police officers have the authority to make deals, promises, or plea bargains in exchange for cooperation?

It would be an unusual situation when an ordinary law enforcement officer, or even a detective, SLED Agent, FBI Agent or DEA Agent would have the power and authority to bind the government by making a plea bargain in exchange for cooperation. Any such offers must be extended by the United States Attorney’s Office or the local prosecuting authority and be put in writing before they are valid and enforceable. Beware of any circumstance where a police officer offers leniency or help in exchange for information or cooperation. Remember, what you say can and will be used against you in a court of law regardless of your cooperation.

If I am arrested for driving under the influence, do I have to take a breath test?

In South Carolina, the law says that any person who is asked to take a breath test may refuse to take the test. However, depending upon the circumstances, the person refusing will suffer some form of administrative action against his or her driver’s license by way of suspension of the driver’s license or driving privileges if he or she is not a resident of South Carolina.

The Harris Law Firm recommends in the vast majority of cases that individuals submit to breath testing as it is often easier to explain the inaccuracies of the breath testing device than to explain the refusal. However, South Carolina has recently enacted a so-called “Per-Se” DUI Law. If and when that law is broadly enforced, the advice and opinion of the Harris Law Firm on the taking of the breath test might well change. Updates will be posted on this Web site.

If I am stopped for driving under the influence, do I have to answer police questions or take field sobriety tests?

A motorist who is stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence is not required to provide any information to a police officer other than his or her driver’s license and registration. A stopped motorist is not required to answer any other police questions or to cooperate with a police investigation in any way.

This does not mean that an accused person should be belligerent, threatening, or rude to a police officer. It simply means that a stopped motorist does not have to answer questions put to them by a police officer on subjects such as: “Where have you been”, “What have you been doing”, “Have you had anything to drink, “How much have you had to drink” and “Do you feel the effects of alcohol or drugs.” Likewise, stopped motorists have no legal obligation to take field sobriety tests such as saying the ABC’s, counting numbers, following a pen with their eyes, standing on one leg, or walking a straight line.

Should I pay the fine if I am charged with a DUI first offense?

Each DUI case, as every criminal case, is unique and individual to its own facts and circumstances. It is almost universally the case that attorneys’ fees for representation for DUI, first offense are more than the maximum fine amount. However, the money saved in paying the fine instead of paying for legal representation is often a false savings when all of the consequences of a DUI conviction, even for a first offense, are considered.

For example, under current South Carolina Law, a DUI first conviction is considered a criminal misdemeanor offense that remains on an individual’s permanent criminal record forever and could be used against that person for purposes of enhanced punishment in subsequent offenses for a period of ten years.

A DUI conviction will result in loss of driving privileges or driver’s license suspension in South Carolina and in order to get back any privilege to drive, the convicted person must enroll in a special alcohol counseling program at a fee and maintain what is known as SR-22 insurance. This insurance is usually extremely expensive and must be maintained for a period of thirty-six months.

The bottom line is that a DUI offense, even a first offense, is a serious matter in South Carolina. The Harris Law Firm would encourage all individuals charged with the offense of DUI to seek the advice of a qualified attorney before making a decision on how to handle his or her DUI first arrest. The Harris Law Firm offers free initial consultations for DUI first offense cases.

What are my rights if police want to search my person, my car, or my house?

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution established the right of privacy for all citizens of this state and country. Generally speaking, the police may not legally search you, your car, or your house without a properly obtained search warrant specifically authorizing the persons or places to be searched.

There are many exceptions to the search warrant requirement. These exceptions are too numerous to answer in this forum. Generally, a police officer may legally search the outer layer of clothing of an individual to assure that an individual has no weapons or anything else which could threaten officer safety. Beyond this, a police officer, generally speaking, cannot without a warrant, legally search a person, a car, or a house without a warrant and/or the consent of the person or the owner of the property to be searched.

The Harris Law Firm’s advice is that individuals who are confronted by police officers should not give voluntary consent to search at any time. This does not mean that an individual confronted by the police should be rude, disrespectful, or belligerent. However, all citizens are entitled to insist upon their constitutional rights and one of those rights is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Check this Web site often for fourth amendment updates to learn the latest of when and where the police may legally search.

What are my rights?

Most people have heard of the Miranda Warnings. The Miranda Warnings are one of the few accurate pieces of information about the law that any person receives from television and movies. The Miranda Warnings are an accurate statement of the rights of all citizens of the United States when confronted by police officers. They are:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say can be and will be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to an attorney and to have that attorney present during any police questioning.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, the Court will appoint an attorney for you.
  • If you choose to start answering questions from the police, you have the right to refuse to answer or to stop answering questions at any time and to ask for an attorney at any time.

All citizens of this country and the State of South Carolina have the right to remain silent. That means that an individual can refuse to answer a police officer’s questions. Police officers often use deceptive, deceitful, and coercive practices in order to force or entice persons whom they are investigating to answer questions. All citizens should be mindful that they have a right to refuse to answer questions and the Harris Law Firm generally recommends that all individuals who are confronted by officers, respectfully decline to answer questions and to insist upon their right to remain silent.