Criminal Defense

Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm

Criminal Defense

Criminal Defense Overview

When it comes to navigating the complexities of Criminal Defense in South Carolina, Thompson & Hiller are seasoned attorney’s that you can trust. With years of  experience in South Carolina criminal law, we offer unparalleled legal representation in a wide range of criminal cases, from drug offenses to DUIs. Our dedicated team is committed to providing personalized legal strategies that are tailored to meet the unique needs of each client. Choose Thompson & Hiller for your criminal defense needs in South Carolina, and gain the advantage of having professionals tip the scales of justice in your favor.

Initial Consultation

Attorney meets with the client to discuss the details of the case

Investigation & Evidence Gathering

Collecting all relevant evidence, talking to witnesses, and reviewing police reports and other documents

Pre-Trial & Negotiations

Defense can negotiate with the prosecution for plea deals or even get some charges dropped

Trial & Beyond

Defense attorney represents the client in court, presenting evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and making closing arguments


State v. C.B., October 2020: C.B. was charged with assault and battery 3rd degree. After multiple pre-trial conferences, the charge was dismissed

State v. J.C., September 2020: J.C. was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor 2nd degree. The charge was dismissed before trial

State v. L.W., October 2019: L.W. was charged with domestic violence 3rd degree. The charge was dismissed the morning of trial after turning over our pre-trial motion to the prosecutor

State v. J.J., September 2019: J.J. was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The charge was dismissed at the preliminary hearing

State v. R.W., July 2021: Defendant was charged with burglary in the first degree. The charge was dismissed after defense attorney interviewed potential witnesses, collected statements from witnesses, and negotiated with the Solicitor

What Types of Criminal Charges Does Thompson and Hiller Defense Firm Handle?

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me with a DUI Charge?

What Are the Steps Involved in Fighting a Drug Offense Case?

Why is Legal Representation Essential for White-Collar Crime Cases?

How Do Thompson and Hiller Attorneys Approach Domestic Violence Defense?

Navigating the Intricacies of South Carolina Criminal Law: Your Guide to Legal Representation

The criminal justice system in South Carolina is a labyrinthine structure that can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. Whether you’re facing a misdemeanor charge in a magistrate or municipal court, or grappling with a severe felony in the General Sessions Court, securing the counsel of seasoned SC criminal law attorneys is non-negotiable.

The Risks of Missing Deadlines and Court Appearances

Failure to adhere to specific deadlines or to make timely requests can result in the forfeiture of crucial legal rights. Absence from a court hearing not only leads to a default guilty verdict but also triggers the issuance of a bench warrant for your arrest.

The Perils of Pleading Guilty Prematurely

Pleading guilty, especially to minor offenses like traffic violations, can have far-reaching implications. For instance, paying a fine for a minor traffic violation might seem inconsequential. However, if that violation led to a drug-related arrest, you’ve essentially conceded to the probable cause for the traffic stop, thereby complicating any General Sessions level charges you may face.

Consult a Criminal Defense Lawyer Before Making Any Decisions

It’s imperative to consult with your criminal defense attorney before making any legal decisions. Your attorney can provide tailored advice that takes into account the nuances of your case and the specific laws of South Carolina.

Who Handles Criminal Prosecutions in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, criminal cases are generally prosecuted by governmental agencies. General Sessions level offenses fall under the purview of the Circuit Solicitor’s office or the Attorney General. Municipal offenses are typically prosecuted by city attorneys, while magistrate court offenses may be prosecuted by either the Solicitor’s office or the arresting officer, depending on the nature of the charge.

What to Expect Post-Arrest in South Carolina

The legal procedures you’ll encounter vary based on the court, the charges, and the county. For a comprehensive guide to each stage of the criminal process in South Carolina, read further. 

Navigating Magistrate and Municipal Court Offenses in South Carolina

Understanding the intricacies of South Carolina’s magistrate and municipal courts is crucial when facing criminal charges. With Thompson & Hiller, experienced SC criminal law attorneys, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate this complex legal landscape.

Jurisdiction of Magistrate and Municipal Courts in SC

Magistrate and municipal courts in South Carolina primarily handle offenses punishable by up to 30 days in jail. However, there are exceptions like DUI (Driving Under the Influence), DUS (Driving Under Suspension), and DV (Domestic Violence). Offenses within city limits are heard by the municipal court of that city, while those in unincorporated areas go to the area’s magistrate court.

The Extensive Network of Courts in South Carolina

South Carolina boasts over 200 municipal courts and approximately 300 magistrate courts. For instance, Horry County alone has multiple municipal courts in cities like Myrtle Beach and Conway, along with nine magistrates. Many counties have specialized magistrate courts for specific case types, such as:

Where Will You Be Detained After Arrest?

If arrested outside city limits, you’ll likely be taken to the county jail. Within city limits, you’ll initially be held at the city jail until bond is set, after which you may be transferred to the county jail.

Knowing Your Court Date and the Risks of Non-Appearance

Your ticket will specify your court date, location, and charges. Failure to appear can result in a guilty verdict and may complicate any additional, more serious charges in General Sessions Court.

Understanding General Sessions Offenses in South Carolina

When facing criminal charges in South Carolina, it’s crucial to understand the role of the General Sessions Court. This court handles most offenses with penalties exceeding 30 days, except for specific cases like first-offense DUI, DUS, and some DV cases. With Thompson & Hiller, experienced SC criminal law attorneys, you’ll have the best defense for your General Sessions level offense.

The Severity of General Sessions Offenses in SC

General Sessions level offenses often come with harsher penalties, ranging from probation to life imprisonment. The county’s solicitor’s office allocates significant resources to these cases, making the fight for conviction more intense.

Navigating the Legal Procedures in General Sessions Court

The legal process varies by county but generally involves multiple court appearances. Usually, a magistrate sets your bond within 48 hours, and you’ll receive details about your first court appearance and how to request a preliminary hearing.

You’ll have two mandatory appearances, often called the First and Second Appearance or Docket Appearance. Failure to attend these without an attorney’s excuse can lead to a bench warrant and potential detention without bond.

Gathering Evidence for Your Defense

Post-arrest, law enforcement forwards their investigative file to the Solicitor’s office. Thompson & Hiller will file motions to obtain all evidence and conduct an independent investigation, negotiating primarily with the prosecutor. This thorough approach often leads to case dismissals or reduced sentences.

Understanding Criminal Penalties in South Carolina

Facing criminal charges in South Carolina can be a daunting experience, but understanding the potential penalties and legal options can empower you to make informed decisions. Thompson & Hiller, your trusted SC criminal defense lawyers, are here to guide you through the complexities of the South Carolina legal system.

What Penalties Could You Face for Criminal Offenses in SC?

In South Carolina, the penalties for criminal offenses can vary significantly depending on the nature of the charge, the circumstances surrounding your case, and the strength of your defense. The state legislature sets a range of penalties for each crime, giving judges considerable discretion in sentencing. In some instances, the penalties may be negotiated with the prosecutor, while in others, the judge determines the sentence after hearing arguments from both the defense and prosecution.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences in South Carolina

Certain offenses in South Carolina come with mandatory minimum sentences that judges cannot waive. For example:

  • Murder carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.

  • Drug trafficking charges involving substances like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines can result in mandatory minimum sentences of up to 25 years.

  • DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charges have mandatory minimum sentences based on breathalyzer results and prior offenses.

  • DUS (Driving Under Suspension) third offenses have mandatory minimum sentences if the suspension was due to a prior DUI conviction.

If you’re facing charges with mandatory minimum sentences, the only way to avoid prison time is through pretrial negotiations to reduce or change the charges or by securing an acquittal at trial.

The Possibility of Probation in South Carolina

Probation is an option for General Sessions level offenses but is generally not available for offenses tried in magistrate or municipal courts. When sentenced to probation, you must meet specific requirements, such as:

  • Monthly meetings with a probation agent

  • Payment of supervision fees, court costs, and restitution

  • Maintaining stable employment and residence

  • Passing random drug tests

  • Home visits by the probation officer

  • Community service in some cases

Alternative Sentencing Options in SC

South Carolina offers several pre-trial diversion programs for first-time offenders, including:

  • PTI (Pretrial Intervention): Complete community service and possibly attend counseling and pass drug tests to have charges dismissed and expunged.

  • AEP (Alcohol Education Program): Designed for alcohol-related offenses, similar to PTI.

  • TEP (Traffic Education Program): A program for minor traffic offenses that allows ticket dismissal and expungement upon completion.

  • Conditional Discharge: Available for first-offense simple possession of marijuana or other minor drug charges.

  • Drug Court: A rigorous program involving counseling, 12-step meetings, and drug testing, available in limited circumstances.

Preliminary Hearings in South Carolina

When you’re facing criminal charges in South Carolina, understanding the intricacies of a preliminary hearing can make a significant difference in your case. With Thompson & Hiller, your dedicated SC criminal defense lawyers, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate this critical legal milestone.

What Exactly is a Preliminary Hearing in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, a preliminary hearing is more than just a formality; it’s a “probable cause hearing.” During this hearing, the arresting officer will testify to establish the grounds—known as probable cause—for your arrest. If you’re charged with a General Sessions level offense, South Carolina law grants you a statutory right to this hearing. However, those charged with 30-day misdemeanors in magistrate or municipal courts do not automatically have this right. They can still challenge the probable cause through pretrial motions, but the process is different.

The Importance of the Preliminary Hearing

The preliminary hearing serves as a crucial checkpoint in the criminal justice process. It’s the first opportunity for your defense attorney to cross-examine the arresting officer and challenge the validity of the probable cause for your arrest. The magistrate or municipal judge presiding over the hearing will then make a pivotal decision: either dismiss your case due to lack of probable cause or move it forward to General Sessions for further prosecution.

What Happens if My Case is Dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing?

If the judge dismisses your case at this stage, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. The prosecutor can still send your case to the grand jury for indictment, effectively reviving your charges. Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain close communication with your attorney to understand the subsequent steps and prepare for any eventualities.

The Risks and Rewards of Waiving Your Preliminary Hearing

Waiving your right to a preliminary hearing is generally not advisable. This hearing offers a golden opportunity for case dismissal and provides invaluable insights into the prosecution’s case against you. It’s a chance to put the arresting officer’s testimony under scrutiny and to gather information that could be beneficial for your defense strategy. Waiving this right usually serves the prosecution more than it does the defendant.

Why Some Lawyers Advise Against Preliminary Hearings

Some defense attorneys might discourage preliminary hearings, citing various reasons like not wanting to “rock the boat” or claiming they’re a waste of time. However, these hearings can offer a wealth of benefits, including the possibility of case dismissal and the opportunity to cross-examine the arresting officer before they’ve been prepped by the prosecution.

The Role of Thompson & Hiller in Your Preliminary Hearing

When you choose Thompson & Hiller as your defense team, you’re opting for a proactive approach to your preliminary hearing. We believe in leveraging this hearing to challenge the prosecution’s case vigorously, aiming for case dismissal or gathering information that strengthens your defense.

What to Do When You’re Under Investigation in South Carolina

Discovering that you’re under investigation by law enforcement can be a nerve-wracking experience. Your first instinct might be to cooperate fully, thinking that doing so will clear your name. However, this could be a critical mistake. Thompson & Hiller, your trusted South Carolina criminal defense lawyers, are here to guide you through this complex and often misunderstood process.

Common Misconceptions When Under Investigation

Many people, when they find a detective’s card on their doorstep or receive a call from one, think along these lines:

  • Talking to the police will prove my innocence.

  • Hiring an attorney will make me look guilty.

  • I can talk my way out of this situation.

  • I have nothing to hide, so why shouldn’t I cooperate?

  • I trust the police and support their work.

These might seem like reasonable thoughts, but they can lead you into a trap.

Why You Shouldn’t Talk to the Police Without Legal Counsel

If law enforcement officers are seeking to question you, it’s not to clear your name; it’s to gather evidence against you or others. Here are the scenarios you might be facing:

  • They Suspect You but Lack Probable Cause: By talking to them, you might provide the missing pieces they need to arrest you.

  • They Already Have Enough to Charge You: They’re looking for additional evidence or statements to strengthen their case.

  • You Might Be a Witness: Police often use the threat of arrest to make witnesses cooperate. Anything you say could be used to charge you later.

The Reality of Police Interrogations

Before you even consider speaking to the police, consult with your criminal defense attorney. During interrogations:

  • Police may lie about the evidence they have.

  • They may use intimidation tactics.

  • Your statements will likely be recorded and can be used against you.

  • Police are trained in techniques designed to elicit confessions, such as the Reid Technique, which can even make innocent people confess.

How Can a South Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?

Once you engage legal representation, we will:

  • Notify all involved law enforcement agencies that you are represented, directing all future communications through our office.

  • Advise you on whether or not to speak to the police.

  • Possibly prevent charges from being filed or negotiate lesser charges.

  • Keep you informed throughout the investigation process.

Will Hiring a Lawyer Make Me Look Guilty?

Law enforcement professionals know better. In fact, many would advise you to get legal representation before speaking to them. Having a lawyer simply shows that you are informed and cautious, not guilty.

Understanding Your Right to Legal Counsel in South Carolina

If you find yourself arrested or under investigation in South Carolina, the first and most crucial step is to consult a criminal defense attorney. Your right to counsel is not just a legal formality; it’s a constitutional safeguard designed to protect your rights at every stage of the criminal justice process.

Why You Need Legal Counsel in South Carolina

You have an absolute right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney before speaking to law enforcement. This right is enshrined in the Constitution and is crucial for several reasons:

  • Legal Profiency : An attorney can guide you through the complexities of the law.

  • Strategic Advice: Your attorney can advise you on the best course of action based on the specifics of your case.

  • Protection of Rights: An attorney ensures that your rights are not violated during the investigation and trial.

What Does the Right to Counsel Actually Mean?

In South Carolina, your right to counsel means:

  • You can choose your own attorney if you can afford one.

  • If you can’t afford an attorney, the government is obligated to provide one for you.

Choosing Your Own Attorney

You have the right to select an attorney who best suits your needs, without interference from the court or the prosecution. Your choice of counsel is a personal decision and a critical one, as this person will be your advocate in a system that can be overwhelming.

Right to Government-Appointed Counsel

If you can’t afford an attorney, the government must provide one for you. However, you won’t have the luxury of choosing your appointed counsel. Typically, a public defender or contract attorney will represent you.

Qualifying for Appointed Counsel

  • To qualify for a government-appointed attorney, you’ll need to:

  • Meet income eligibility requirements.

  • Fill out an application and pay a nominal fee at the public defender’s office.

Your Right to Counsel Before Charges Are Filed

If law enforcement contacts you, consult your attorney before speaking. Police are trained in interrogation techniques designed to elicit confessions, and they may lie about evidence or statements from witnesses. Once you request an attorney, all questioning should cease.

What to Say If You’re Arrested or Questioned

If you find yourself in this situation, keep your statements to the police brief and to the point:

  • “Am I free to go?”

  • “Am I under arrest?”

  • “I want my attorney.”

Regardless of what the police say, continue to politely insist on your right to counsel.

Your Constitutional Rights in South Carolina

Your right to counsel is just one of the many constitutional protections available to you. Others include the right to remain silent, the right to be free from unreasonable searches, and the right to a trial by jury. It’s crucial to exercise these rights to protect yourself in the criminal justice system.

Want to Speak With an Attorney Today?

Get your free initial consultation set up today by reaching out via phone, email, or text. Have Thompson & Hiller on your side today.

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