What is an arrest warrant?
An arrest warrant is a document that gives police the authority to apprehend and detain a person until he or she can be brought before a judge. In South Carolina, arrest warrants are issued by magistrates or municipal judges once probable cause has been established to merit the issuance of an arrest warrant. A judge need not use specific legal language when stating the charges in an arrest warrant; however, he must be clear enough in the description of the alleged offense so that the defendant understands the charges alleged against him. In order to avoid confusion, the judge should issue separate warrants for each defendant and for each offense.
Can I be arrested without an arrest warrant in South Carolina?
Yes, under certain circumstances you may be arrested in South Carolina without a warrant. If an officer believes that a person has committed a felony, and the alleged felon may escape or further break the law in the time it would take to obtain an arrest warrant, the officer may arrest the person without a warrant. An officer who witnesses a misdemeanor within his jurisdictional limits may also arrest without a warrant but he must witness the criminal act first-hand. In South Carolina, a Uniform Traffic Ticket may be used to arrest someone if the officer witnesses the crime and the punishment is within the jurisdiction of the magistrates or municipal courts.
Any person being arrested in South Carolina without an arrest warrant must be brought before a judge as quickly as possible so that the judge may issue an arrest warrant, if proper. The arrest warrant serves to provide information and is for administrative purposes. It will also provide information to the solicitor if the case is beyond the jurisdiction of the magistrate or municipal court.
Why must there be probable cause for an arrest warrant?
In South Carolina, a magistrate or municipal court judge must exercise independent judgment when deciding to issue an arrest warrant rather than simply acting as an agent of the police. This is to help protect people from being arrested only upon the word of a police officer or informant. A judge must not issue an arrest warrant if there is only a mere suspicion that a crime has been committed. Probable cause is a substantial and objective belief that the person to be arrested has committed the offense being alleged. Therefore, when reviewing a complaint or affidavit requesting an arrest warrant, the judge must find there is sufficient evidence contained within the complaint or affidavit for a reasonable person to believe that a crime has been committed by the suspect. The complaint must not simply contain conclusions; it must contain enough facts for the judge to rely upon to find probable cause exists for the arrest warrant.
Do arrest warrants expire in South Carolina?
No, arrest warrants do not expire in South Carolina but circumstances may arise that would make the service of an arrest warrant no longer needed. In South Carolina, an arrest warrant is to be served within a “reasonable time" but that time frame is not specified within the code. While all reasonable means to serve an arrest warrant in a timely matter should be utilized, an arrest warrant does not “grow stale" by the inability to immediate execute the warrant. The decision not to serve an arrest warrant because it is no longer proper is to be made on an individual basis based upon the circumstances of each case.
Is a bench warrant the same thing as an arrest warrant?
In South Carolina, a judge may issue a bench warrant for the attachment or arrest of a person. This is an order that is issued "from the bench" and may not be used to initiate a criminal action in South Carolina. A bench warrant is used to bring a defendant back before the court on a specific charge after the defendant has been served with an arrest warrant or other document charging him with a crime. Examples of uses for bench warrants include: to bring a defendant back to court that fails to pay a fine; when someone has been released but fails to appear for a court hearing; when someone is tried in his or her absence and needs to be brought before the judge to comply with the sentence; and, to bring a witness before the court who failed to appear after being subpoenaed.
Where can I get information about crimes in South Carolina?
- South Carolina Judicial Department – Online database for searching court records within the State of South Carolina.
- SLED Criminal History Search – The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division offers an online criminal history search for a small fee.
- Most Wanted List – A list of South Carolina’s most wanted criminals.
- Cold Cases – A list of the cold cases in South Carolina that SLED would like help solving.
Crime statistics in South Carolina
When compared to 10 other states that are similar in size to South Carolina, SC ranks number one for the most crimes committed from 1999 through 2008. During that time, there were over two million crimes committed in South Carolina with 15% of those being violent in nature.