(WSPA) — Tens of thousand of low level offenders who have magistrate warrants out for their arrest will soon get a “Get out of Jail Free Card” of sorts.
A September directive to magistrate judges across South Carolina outlined issues in the lowest level of court.
“It has continually come to my attention that defendants, who are neither represented by counsel nor have waived counsel, are being sentenced to imprisonment. This is a clear violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and numerous opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States,” states the memorandum from South Carolina Chief Justice and Spartanburg native Donald Beatty.
The directive comes after a year-long study by the American Civil Liberties Union that found issues in South Carolina’s Magistrate Courts. The organization’s report states that many people were tried in their absence and issued bench warrants, and that many defendants didn’t know or couldn’t afford a lawyer to represent them in these cases.
That decision has caused Chief Justice Beatty to direct all magistrate judges to recall warrants. That directive is causing sheriff’s offices across the Upstate dozens of hours pulling information from those warrants out of their system.
Many sheriffs are frustrated, including Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride, who worries that this gives those who simply don’t show up for court no punishments.
“If there’s no consequences to people’s actions, what do we expect next? That certainly presents a problem,” McBride said.
There’s no time limit on when the warrants have to be recalled by, and not all of the county’s have done this so far. Between the eight Upstate sheriff’s offices, there are at least 25,000 warrants that will be removed from the system.