Docket Control in SC: Clerk’s Office Will Set the Trial Roster in Charleston County

Docket control in SC may be about to change. Finally.

In October 2018, the Chief Justice of the SC Supreme Court and the Chief Administrative Judge for the Ninth Circuit General Sessions Court signed a new administrative order that changes how Charleston County’s criminal courts will operate.

What changes, you say?

Well, there are a lot of small changes and tweaks to the system. But there is one major change that everyone has been waiting for since November of 2012 – docket control:

As of March 31, 2017, the Solicitor is no longer responsible for determining the General Sessions Docket. At the direction of Chief Justice Beatty, this authority was transferred to the Chief Administrative Judge for General Sessions (hereinafter, “the Chief Judge”) for an indefinite period of time as part of a pilot program in Charleston County. In the future, the Chief Judge may expand this pilot program to Berkeley County.

Why have we been waiting since 2012, you say?

Because in November 2012, the SC Supreme Court declared in State v. Langford that South Carolina’s docket control system where the prosecutors have absolute control of the docket is unconstitutional because it violates the Separation of Powers Clause of the SC Constitution.

For six years, since the SC Supreme Court finally acknowledged that our docket control system in SC is unconstitutionally biased in favor of prosecutors, prosecutors have remained in control of the criminal dockets across the state…

What other changes are in the newest administrative order for Charleston County?

Pretrial Procedure in Charleston County

Like prior administrative orders, this one lays out a basic outline for criminal procedure in Charleston County. There are a few major changes and a lot of tweaks, but much of the process will remain the same.

Bond Hearings in Charleston, SC

The procedure for bond hearings is substantially the same. A magistrate or municipal court judge sets bond for all bailable criminal offenses, and notice is given to the defendant at their bond hearing (or when they would have had a bond hearing, for non-bailable offenses) for:

  • The date and time of the defendant’s Initial Appearance;
  • Whether the defendant qualifies for a public defender; and
  • The defendant’s right to a preliminary hearing.

For general sessions offenses, the magistrate or municipal judge must then forward all documents, including the arrest warrant and bond, to the Clerk of Court for General Sessions.

Notices of Appearance

Defense attorneys, both private criminal defense lawyers and public defenders, must file a Notice of Appearance with the Clerk of Court and serve the Notice on all other attorneys of record.

Discovery

Law enforcement is ordered to provide all materials in the law enforcement file to the Solicitor’s Office within 30 days of the defendant’s arrest.

The Solicitor’s Office is ordered to provide discovery materials to defense attorneys within 60 days of a Rule 5 discovery request (although Rule 5 says 30 days…”The prosecution shall respond to the defendant’s request for disclosure no later than thirty (30) days after the request is made, or within such other time as may be ordered by the court.”).

If law enforcement has not provided all evidence to the Solicitor’s Office within 60 days of the defendant’s arrest, the defendant can file a motion to dismiss their case, and the Order authorizes the Chief Judge to dismiss their case without prejudice.

If a case is dismissed because law enforcement failed to provide evidence to the Solicitor’s Office, the law enforcement agency must petition the Chief Judge and “establish good and sufficient legal cause for its initial failure to timely transmit discovery.” If good cause is not shown, the Chief Judge can refuse to issue a new warrant.

Preliminary Hearings in Charleston County

Preliminary hearings must be:

  • Requested in writing;
  • Requested on or before indictment; and
  • If the affiant (the officer who submitted the warrant affidavit) does not appear at the preliminary hearing, the Court can dismiss the warrant.

If the preliminary hearing can be requested in writing “on or before indictment,” does that mean that defendants’ prelims are not waived simply because the prosecutor secured an indictment before the preliminary hearing was held?

That’s what it says

Pretrial Motions

Dispositive pretrial motions will be heard during nonjury terms of court, including:

  • Speedy trial motions;
  • Severance motions;
  • Motions to compel discovery;
  • Bond motions; and
  • Motions to suppress evidence.

Although the Order lists motions to suppress evidence, it also states that motions “in limine” (which are often motions to suppress evidence or statements) must be heard by the trial judge.

Negotiations and Trial in Charleston, SC

The purpose of the Order, apart from wresting control of the docket away from the Solicitor’s Office, is to simplify the process – it is designed to encourage the resolution of cases and, where a case cannot be resolved, to streamline the trial process.

Assigned Case Tracks

Each case will be assigned to a “case track” as follows:

  • Track A: All misdemeanor offenses, Class E and F felonies, and any other felony with a potential punishment of up to ten years (placed on the trial roster after 8 months);
  • Track B: All Class C and D felonies and any other felony with a maximum punishment of up to 20 years (placed on the trial roster after ten months); and
  • Track C: All Class A and B felonies and any other felony with a maximum punishment of up to 25 years (placed on the trial roster after one year).

Mediation Conferences, Pretrial Conferences, Scheduling Orders

Any party – defendant or prosecutor can request a mediation conference at any time to attempt to resolve a case either by simplifying the issues for trial or by negotiating a resolution.

Either party can also request a pretrial conference with the presiding judge, and the Order states that trial judges will be available on Tuesday through Friday of each term of court to hold pretrial conferences with prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Furthermore, the Chief Judge will conduct a pretrial conference with the prosecutors and defense attorneys for the cases on the trial roster 30 days before that term of court to discuss the evidence, witnesses, exhibits, and evidentiary issues that may arise during trial.

Trial Roster

The Clerk of Court’s General Sessions Court Coordinator is to prepare and publish a jury trial docket at least 45 days before each term of court.

The jury trial docket should have at least 30 cases per judge for each term of court, which “shall be called for trial in the order in which they are placed on the Jury Trial Roster…”

Either party can request a continuance, but, “ordinarily, such continuances shall be only until the next term of court.”

The full Order can be read here.

Charleston, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer

Grant B. Smaldone is a criminal defense lawyer based in Charleston, SC who focuses his law practice on state and federal criminal defense in the Charleston, Georgetown, and Myrtle Beach, SC areas.

If you have been charged with a crime in Charleston, SC, call now at (843) 808-2100 or contact us through our website to talk to a Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney today.


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