Columbia Criminal Lawyer

Columbia, SC Defense Attorney

Being charged with a crime—whether a misdemeanor or felony—should always be taken seriously.  This is especially true in South Carolina, where prison sentences can be harsh, and judges have a great deal of discretion on what penalties can apply to convictions for various offenses.

To effectively contest your charges with the hope of pursuing a positive resolution to your case, you will most likely need the assistance of a defense attorney who has previously defended cases like yours in the Midlands.  If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced Columbia criminal lawyer to review the charges against you and determine what legal defenses might apply to your situation.

Classifications of Crimes Under State Law

Broadly speaking, misdemeanor offenses in South Carolina state court are those are punished by a maximum of three years of imprisonment or less, while felony offenses are those punishable by maximum prison sentences of greater than three years (please note there are exceptions to this rule).  All offenses punishable by less than one year of imprisonment at most are considered unclassified misdemeanor offenses.

South Carolina Code of Laws §16-1-10 establishes three classes of misdemeanor offenses and six classes of felony offenses, with “Class A” being more severe than “Class B”, and so on. It should be noted, though, that numerous offenses are listed in this statute as exempt from this classification system.  For example, murder is uniquely punishable by 30 years to life imprisonment or capital punishment, and first-degree criminal sexual misconduct with a minor is uniquely punishable by a mandatory minimum 25 years of imprisonment without the possibility of probation, or life in prison.

As per S.C. Code of Laws §16-1-20, the maximum sentences of imprisonment available for each category of criminal offense in South Carolina are as follows:

  • Class C misdemeanor – one year
  • Class B misdemeanor – two years
  • Class A misdemeanor – three years
  • Class F felony – five years
  • Class E felony – 10 years
  • Class D felony – 15 years
  • Class C felony – 20 years
  • Class B felony – 25 years
  • Class A felony – 30 years

S.C. Code of Laws §16-1-90 lists every felony offense classified under each category, and S.C. Code of Laws §16-1-100 likewise classifies misdemeanor offenses.

Enhancing Penalties

There are various factors that may enhance available penalties for a criminal conviction in South Carolina.  For instance, under S.C. Code of Laws §16-1-120, anyone convicted of a felony—classified or unclassified—punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years or more in prison who commits another felony offense within a year of their release from prison through parole or upon completion of their sentence may have anywhere from one to five additional years of imprisonment added to the sentence they receive upon conviction for the subsequent offense.

Other potential aggravating factors include the presence of a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime, whether the crime in question caused serious injury or death, who the crime in question targeted, and the value of goods or services involved in a crime.  Furthermore, S.C. Code of Laws §16-1-40 allows anyone who acts as an accessory to a felony to receive the same punishment as the person convicted of committing the felony.

Common Criminal Charges in South Carolina

South Carolina state law recognizes many types of crimes, ranging from violent offenses like murder, rape (or criminal sexual conduct, as it is referred to in the statutes), and assault, to non-violent crimes like theft, possession and/or distribution of illicit substances, and various traffic-related offenses.  There are common law misdemeanor offenses that have a maximum potential penalty of up to ten (10) years imprisonment.  However, Columbia criminal attorneys deal with some types of criminal charges more commonly than others, many of which are listed below.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Under S.C. Code of Laws §56-5-2930, it is illegal for anyone who is “materially and appreciably impaired” by alcohol, drugs, or any other intoxicating substance to operate a motor vehicle.  Additionally, S.C. Code of Laws §56-5-2933 establishes a related but separate offense known as driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration, which makes it illegal to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above while operating a motor vehicle.

Accordingly, driving under the influence (DUI) is inferred when someone’s BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, and someone with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 percent can be arrested for DUI if the police officer who pulled them over judges them to be intoxicated based on observational evidence. Even harsher standards apply to specialized categories of drivers—0.02 percent or higher for those 21 years or younger, and 0.04 percent or higher for those who hold a CDL (commercial driver’s license) and are operating a commercial vehicle while intoxicated.

Furthermore, under S.C. Code of Laws §56-5-2950, anyone who drives a motor vehicle in South Carolina gives “implied consent” to provide law enforcement with a blood, breath, or urine test to determine BAC levels if they are requested to do so by a law enforcement officer. While all persons arrested for DUI have the right to refuse the test, anyone who refuses will automatically lose their license for six months, or for three months if they are under 21.  A person who wishes to challenge a driver’s license suspension must do so within 30 days from the Notice of Suspension, which is generally given during arrest.

Consequences of a DUI

Criminal punishments available upon conviction for a DUI offense can vary a lot depending on the defendant’s tested BAC and any prior history they have of similar convictions.  Depending on the circumstances, consequences for a conviction may include:

  • For a first offense, a maximum $400 fine plus assessments and surcharges, 48 hours to 30 days of imprisonment, and a six-month license suspension
  • For a second offense, a fine of $2,100 to $5,100 plus assessments and surcharges, five days to one year of imprisonment, and a one-year license suspension
  • For a third offense, a fine of $3,800 to $6,300 plus assessments and surcharges, 60 days to three years of imprisonment, and a two- to four-year license suspension as well as potential vehicle confiscation depending on how long it has been since the first offense
  • For a fourth of subsequent offense, one to five years of imprisonment and permanent loss of license

Additionally, DUI may be considered a felony offense if an intoxicated driver causes severe physical injury or death to someone else.  In the former scenario, a convicted defendant may face a mandatory fine of $5,100 to $10,100 plus assessments and surcharges, as well as 30 days to 15 years in prison.  In the latter scenario, consequences may include a mandatory fine of $10,100 to $25,100 plus assessments and surcharges, and a prison sentence of one to 25 years in length.

Theft and Larceny Offenses

Under S.C. Code of Laws §16-13-30, South Carolina defines larceny—the term used by state law to refer to theft offenses—as the unlawful taking of real property, money or other monetary instruments, or services belonging to someone else with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property. The severity of a larceny offense—and accordingly, the severity of potential punishments upon conviction—depends on the total value of all goods, services, or instruments stolen through a single act.

Petit larceny—also known as petty theft—involves stealing property or services valued at $2,000 or less in total. It is considered a misdemeanor and can result in fines of up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in prison upon conviction. Conversely, grand larceny of property or services valued between $2,000 and $10,000 is a felony that can result in a sentence of up to five years in prison, and stealing property or services valued at over $10,000 is a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Shoplifting

Shoplifting, which S.C. Code of Laws §16-13-110 defines as the concealment, alteration, or transfer of unpurchased goods with the intent to deprive the merchant of the property, can likewise be a misdemeanor or felony depending on whether the total value of shoplifted merchandise exceeds $2,000. The applicable criminal penalties for a shoplifting conviction are the same as those associated with an equivalent petit or grand larceny charge.

However, individuals convicted of shoplifting in South Carolina may also be civilly liable to the store owner(s) or merchandise owner(s) impacted by their actions.  If the shoplifted items are not in a sellable condition when recovered, the defendant may be liable for the merchandise’s retail price up to $1,500, as well as an additional penalty of three times the merchandise’s retail value or $150, whichever is greater, up to a maximum penalty of $500.

If an individual used a motor vehicle registered in their name during the commission of a shoplifting offense, they may be subject to confiscation and/or forfeiture of that vehicle during civil proceedings. Finally, under S.C. Code of Laws §15-75-40, the parent or legal guardian of a minor convicted of shoplifting may bear this civil liability on the minor’s behalf if they knew or should have known the minor had a propensity to steal.

Assault and Battery

S.C. Code of Laws §16-3-600 defines four degrees of assault and battery charges, two of which are misdemeanors and two of which are felonies.  Third-degree assault and battery, also known as simple assault, generally involves striking someone—“battery”—in a way that does not result in severe injury, although it can alternatively entail threatening or attempting to cause such an injury while also possessing the apparent ability to immediately do so. It is a misdemeanor which can result in up to 30 days in jail upon conviction.

Second Degree Assault

Second-degree assault and battery involves causing moderate bodily injury—or believably threatening or attempting to inflict moderate bodily injury—that required the victim to seek medical treatment involving regional or general anesthesia, surgery, or any direct treatment for damaged internal organs. Alternatively, any nonconsensual touching of the genitals or private parts that results in injury or involves an attempt at causing injury is also classified as assault and battery in the second degree.  This is a misdemeanor which can result in up to three (3) years in prison upon conviction.

First Degree Assault and Battery

First-degree assault and battery involve an individual causing injury through the nonconsensual touching of genitals in a lewd manner or during the commission of a theft, robbery, kidnapping, or burglary offense.  An assault without battery or physical conduct can also be classified as a first-degree offense if it was likely to produce death or great bodily harm, or if it occurred during the commission of a theft, robbery, kidnapping, or burglary. Either way, this is a felony which could result in a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison upon conviction.

Assault and Battery of a High and Aggravated Nature

Finally, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature (ABHAN) is the most serious of all assault charges codified under state law, as it involves physical contact which results in great bodily harm, or which occurs in a manner that was likely to produce death or great bodily injury. ABHAN is a felony which can result in up to 20 years in prison upon conviction.

The process of contesting an assault and battery charge can sometimes be complex, especially if the defendant in question does not have a “clean” criminal record.  Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for a skilled South Carolina criminal defense attorney to negotiate a favorable plea deal or fight the charge at a jury trial.

However, the presence of a deadly weapon as defined by S.C. Code of Laws §16-23-460 during the commission of any type of assault and battery can allow for enhanced penalties upon conviction.  Specifically, under S.C. Code of Laws §16-3-610, the use of a deadly weapon to commit an act of assault must be punished by a jail sentence of three to 12 months and/or a minimum fine of $200, in addition to any other applicable penalties.

Drug Possession and Distribution

South Carolina criminalizes the possession and/or intended distribution of controlled dangerous substances (CDS) based on their classification within one of five schedules, a model which matches the classification system established under the federal Controlled Substances Act. S.C. Code of Laws §§44-53-190, -210, -230, -250, and -270 respectively list every CDS included in Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V. Likewise, S.C. Code of Laws §§44-53-180, -200, -220, -240, and -260 define criteria for a substance to be included in each particular schedule, which are as follows:

  • Schedule I – the substance has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use, and cannot be used safely even under medical supervision
  • Schedule II – the substance has a high potential for abuse and can create severe physical or psychological dependency, but also has at least one currently accepted medical use, typically with severe restrictions
  • Schedule III – the substance has a lesser potential for abuse compared to Schedule I and II substances, may create physical or psychological dependency of a moderate or low severity, and has a currently accepted medical use
  • Schedule IV – the substance has a low potential for abuse relative to Schedule III substances, may create only limited physical or psychological dependency compared to Schedule III substances, and has a currently accepted medical use
  • Schedule V – the substance has the lowest risk of abuse and/or creating physical or psychological dependency compared to all other scheduled substances, as well as a currently accepted medical use

According to S.C. Code of Laws §44-53-370, anyone found in possession of any Schedule I or Schedule II CDS—or lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known by its acronym “LSD”—may be charged with a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum $5,000 fine and/or two-year prison sentence if they have no prior history of similar offenses. A second offense is a felony punishable by a $5,000 fine and five years of imprisonment, and third and subsequent offenses may result in a $10,000 fine and ten years in prison upon conviction.

Possession of Scheduled CDS

Possession of any other scheduled CDS is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of a $1,000 fine and a six-month jail sentence for a first offense, with second and subsequent offenses allowing for maximum sentences of $2,000 in fines and one year in jail upon conviction. The only exception is for the possession of cocaine, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and three years of imprisonment upon conviction for a first offense. A second offense of cocaine possession is a felony that could result in up to a $7,500 fine and five years in prison upon conviction, and third and subsequent offenses may be punished with a maximum of $12,500 in fines and a ten-year prison sentence.

Possession of a certain amount of a particular CDS—for instance, one gram or more of cocaine, 50 micrograms or more of LSD, or 15 tablets or more of MDMA—may be considered presumed intent to sell, allowing for much harsher fines and prison sentences upon conviction compared to a standard possession charge. Assistance from a seasoned criminal defense lawyer may be especially critical for anyone in Columbia accused of an intent to distribute offense.

How a Columbia Criminal Attorney Can Help

Regardless of the specific criminal charge you are facing, it is critical to remember that you have essential and inalienable rights throughout every stage of your case.  In addition, there are viable legal defense strategies for virtually every situation, and additional exculpatory information might arise from a separate pre-trial investigation conducted by an experienced Columbia criminal defense attorney.

Anyone charged with a crime in Richland County should speak with a Columbia criminal lawyer before accepting a plea bargain to ensure they understand their rights and the consequences of the guilty plea. Having a criminal record could affect you for the rest of your life, so call today to find out how legal counsel may help preserve your reputation and freedom.