CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Three recent serious police situations -- a suspect shot at by US Marshals in West Ashley, a police officer wounded in West Columbia, and a standoff on Carter's Drive in Summerville -- have one thing in common: officers were serving a warrant when the action happened.
A bench warrant is handed down to bring a defendant back to court for a specific charge. They are issued in most cases when
the person fails to appear in court for that hearing.
Once a bench warrant is issued, the defendant is then given two options.
"Put them in custody, and they can either be brought before me or pay a fine," Charleston County Magistrate Judge James Gosnell said.
It is then the responsibility of law enforcement to go out and track that person down. Warrant record clerks at the sheriff's office will run a background check to find out more information about the person.
"If there's a violent history, that information is actually attached to the warrant." Charleston County Sheriff's Lt. Ron Maugans said. "Based upon what he sees they can use more officers if needed."
At least two officers are sent to deliver a bench warrant. Officers go through specific training during the academy to deal with these kind of encounters, but each one can be different.
"A warrant is only as dangerous as the person we're trying to arrest makes it out to be," Maugans said. "That's for any warrant. Whether it's for murder, or a civil magistrate warrant for no drivers license. It all depends on the reaction of the person we're trying to arrest."
Maugans said most warrants are for minor infractions like driving under suspension or simple assault and then failing to appear in court. If an encounter turns dangerous other agencies are then called in to assist.
He said the easiest thing to do is be cooperative.
"Just comply. That's basically what it is. If you comply it's going to go very smooth," Maugans said.
"I think it's a very good tool that the judge has to use to be able to force the authority of the court," Gosnell added.
There are hundreds of warrants that are filed in the system. Some may sit for a period of 20 years for reasons of not being able to find the person.