The Victim Witness Program of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit was developed to serve victims and witnesses in a criminal case in Horry and Georgetown Counties. A Victim Advocate, which is a trained professional, is assigned to each case and will be available to insure that as victims and witnesses of a crime you get the information and help to which you are entitled to under the South Carolina Constitution.
Some of those rights include:
The right to be treated with dignity and compassion
The right to due process in criminal court proceedings
The right to be free from intimidation and harm
The right to be informed of criminal justice proceedings
The right to reparation and preservation of property and employment
Victim means any individual who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as the result of the commission or attempted commission of a criminal offense. Victim also includes any individual’s spouse, parent, child, or the lawful representative of a victim who is deceased; a minor; incompetent; or physically or psychologically incapacitated.
Victim does not include any individual who is the subject of an investigation for, who is charged with, or who has been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to the offense in question. Victim also does not include any individual, including spouse, parent, child or lawful representative, who is acting on behalf of the suspect, juvenile offender, or defendant unless his actions are required by law. Victim also does not include any individual who was imprisoned or engaged in an illegal act at the time of the offense.
As a victim, you are definitely a vital part of this process and the effect of this crime upon you is of great importance. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and express your need for assistance at any time. You have the right to attend certain hearings and participate at different points during the judicial process. Your victim advocate will keep you informed of these events and ensure you are afforded your rights at the appropriate times. If the defendant is convicted, you may register to receive status updates during the period of incarceration, appeals process and/or probation. Victims do have the responsibility to keep prosecution and post-conviction agencies informed of changes to addresses and contact information in order to allow for proper notification of trials, hearings, releases and so forth.
Arrest And Bond Hearings
After the victim reports the crime to law enforcement, if enough probable cause exists, a warrant will be served and an arrest made. If the person accused of the crime (the defendant) is already in jail, he or she will be served with the warrant there. If not, the suspect will be located, served the warrant and taken into custody. At that point, the defendant will be fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a cell. Usually, the defendant seeks help from an attorney and may request bond. In less serious or juvenile cases, the defendant may be released or may be required to post bond before being released. A Summary Court, Municipal Judge or Magistrate sets bond in most cases except murder, which is heard before a Circuit Court Judge in General Sessions Court. As a victim, you have the right to be present at the bond hearing if you so desire. It should be noted that the purpose of the bond is to assure that the defendant will appear in court. It is not intended to make it impossible for the defendant to get out of jail. The only issues considered by the judge are whether the defendant would be a danger to the community or if the defendant would be a flight risk should he or she be released on bond. Very often the defendant will be out of jail in a matter of hours after he or she is arrested. The local detention facility where the defendant is being held will notify you of this release. In order to ensure notification, please make the detention center aware of changes in your contact information while the defendant is incarcerated there. They can be reached by clicking the Find Help button on this page and going to the links for the J. Reuben Long Detention Center for Horry County cases or the Georgetown County Detention Center for Georgetown County cases.
Prosecution And The Solicitor’s Office
For more serious charges, the case will be sent from the law enforcement agency to the Solicitor’s Office and assigned to an Assistant Solicitor (district attorney or prosecution attorney), who prosecutes the case on behalf of the State. A victim advocate from the Solicitor’s Office will contact you and keep you informed of the case’s progress, notify you of hearings, accompany you to court, and be available to answer any questions that you may have during this time. If you have incurred medical injuries and need assistance with these expenses or desire counseling, as a result of the crime, your victim advocate may assist you with these and other needs. Always keep the Solicitor’s office informed of changes to your contact information such as telephone numbers and address.
If you are considering a civil lawsuit or have retained an attorney, he or she may wish to follow the progress of the case, however, this attorney will not participate in the prosecution of the criminal case, including the trial or possible guilty plea. The defendant may either retain the services of a defense attorney of their choice or may have a public defender appointment by the court to represent them. This attorney may wish to interview you concerning the case. Be aware, you do not have to talk to the defense attorney prior to trial unless you desire to do so. If you wish to do so, feel free to begin and end the conversation as you feel comfortable.
Victim Impact Statement (VIS)
Completing and returning the VIS in a timely manner is most important and allows your “voice to be heard” by the criminal justice system. Once your case reaches the Solicitor’s Office, a victim advocate will send you a form called the Victim Impact Statement. It is very important to complete this form in a timely manner and return it to the Solicitor’s Office. If you misplace the form, you can go to the Forms button and click on the VIS to download it from this site. This form will let the Solicitor’s Office know if you wish to be notified of any hearings associated with the case. It provides contact information to your victim advocate and may be used by the Solicitor to determine the proper disposition of the charge(s). It may also be used for restitution consideration at sentencing by the judge. This form provides victims with the opportunity to express specific ways (physically, mentally and financially) that the crime has impacted their lives. The VIS will become an official court document and will become part of the defendant’s permanent file. It will continue to be used after sentencing by other state agencies such as the South Carolina Department of Corrections and or the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
The defendant may request a preliminary hearing within ten (10) days he or she is arrested. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to present the basic elements of the case so that the Magistrate may decide whether or not there is probable cause and sufficient reason to go forward with the case and continue to hold the defendant to the requirements of his or her bond. The investigating officer will present the facts of the case and answer questions from the Solicitor and defense attorney during this hearing. Your attendance is not required, although you have a right to attend and may wish to do so in order to follow the progress of the case.
If probable cause is found to exist at the preliminary hearing, the next step will be the grand jury. The grand jury is comprised of a group of eighteen (18) citizens and these hearings are not open to the public. You will likely not be informed prior to this hearing. The grand jury listens to the basic elements of cases, one right after the other. If the grand jury issues a “no bill,” the case will not go to court. If the grand jury issues a “true bill” (or indictment), the case is bound over for General Sessions Court.
Guilty Plea Or Trial
The defendant in your case must decide if he or she will enter a guilty plea or request a trial. If the defendant decides to plead guilty, you have the right to be present and address the judge before the sentence is given. The defendant may request a trial during which twelve (12) jurors will listen to all the facts of the case and decide if the defendant is guilty of the crime. This must be a unanimous decision by all twelve (12) jurors in order to convict. If the defendant is incarcerated at the time of the trial and found not guilty, he or she will be released from custody. If the defendant is found guilty, he or she will usually be sentenced immediately after the guilty verdict is announced. You have the right to be present and to address the judge before the defendant is sentenced. This can be an oral or written statement made by you or a family member and should focus on the way your life has been impacted or affected by the crime. You may also include your opinion of the sentence you feel may be appropriate in the case. Your victim advocate will be happy to talk with you about this statement. In determining the sentence, the judge will consider all the information he or she has about the case, including your Victim Impact Statement and any statement you make to the judge. The judge also must sentence the defendant within the parameters or guidelines set by our state sentencing laws. Almost always, the judge decides the sentence. Under South Carolina law, the jury decides the sentence only in death penalty cases, also called capital cases.
Pretrial Intervention (PTI)
The defendant may be eligible for this program if he or she is a first time offender charged with a less serious crime. The offender pays a fee for participation in this program. The defendant must also make restitution to the victim to pay for the damage or injury he or she has incurred, if applicable. Counseling is provided in an effort to teach the defendant the impact of his or her behavior and to avoid repetition of this offense. Victims are notified and allowed to express an opinion if this defendant meets the requirements to participate in this program. If the defendant successfully completes this program, their case will be dismissed. If not, it will be returned to the Solicitor’s Office for prosecution.
Should the defendant be convicted of the crime for which he or she is charged and receive jail time as part of their sentence, they will usually be taken directly from the courtroom to begin serving their sentence. If victims have provided contact information to the Solicitor’s Office, it will be forwarded to the South Carolina Department of Corrections and/or the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. Victim service personnel at these agencies will provide post-conviction notification to the victim at the appropriate times such as parole hearings, prison release, appeals, etc. Victims should make every effort to contact these agencies if at any time there is a change of address. The victim advocate at the Solicitor’s Office can assist you with information about these agencies and contact numbers in the future. A list of these agencies such as the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services or the South Carolina Department of Corrections can be found by clicking the Find Help button on this page.