In an effort to save time and money, legislators are changing how a judge can order an individual’s arrest if that person fails to appear in court.
A bill passed by the House Wednesday deals with “bench warrants,” which are issued by a judge whenever a person does not show up for a court hearing. Rep. Chris Hart (D-Richland) explains that, if the individual does not appear, they face arrest.
The solicitor has sole discretion of when to call a case and how to call it. They will have what we call “roll calls.” In essence, they’re really cattle calls. They’ll have people come in (that) aren’t scheduled for court– they’re just scheduled for an appearance. If a person fails to appear for whatever reason, the prosecutor can then go to the judge and request that warrant from the bench.
He says one problem is that judges can order an arrest for contempt of court without first telling the defense lawyer.
A lot of times, what happens in South Carolina is the prosecutor will request a bench warrant without giving notice to the defendant or the defendant’s attorney… The only time the attorney can find out about it is when the defendant calls from jail.
Under the bill, a solicitor would have to first notify the defendant’s lawyer before seeking a bench warrant. Some counties already do this, but Hart says the process is not uniform across the state.
Hart, an attorney himself, said he hoped it would save local governments time and money.
A lot of times, the person just didn’t get the notice (to appear in court). Under this bill… I can call my client and say, “Hey, you missed court. You need to show up by 5:00.” We don’t have to go through the whole exercise of them being arrested, going to jail, taking up space, spending taxpayers’ money, then requesting a hearing to get that bench warrant lifted.
The legislation passed the House unanimously and now heads to the Senate.