Thousands of arrest warrants recalled after directive from State Supreme Court chief justice

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Thousands of people in South Carolina wanted for skipping court dates or failing to pay fines may be getting a big break.

Judges have suspended all arrests on bench warrants, the result of a directive from the State Supreme Court chief justice.

Justice Donald Beatty says he's concerned that people are being sentenced to jail without being told they have a right to an attorney.

Beatty says it's a clear violation of their sixth amendment rights under the constitution.

Beatty says those arrested on bench warrants cannot be jailed if found guilty, only fined.

As a result, magistrates around the state including in Charleston County have ordered police agencies to stop serving outstanding bench warrants.

Among those affected, people given traffic tickets and those who are charged with domestic violence.

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon says the warrant recall could get people off the hook if they're ordered to court and don't come.

"If they don't show up I'm afraid the message here is going to be, if you get a ticket what's the motivation for showing up in court?" Cannon said Thursday. "I don't know how we sit down and determine whether there are victims associated with these cases or not."

Charleston criminal defense attorney and former municipal judge Tim Kulp has his own theory about bench warrants.

"I think the concern is not all the time, but it can be used as a very hard handed collection to bring fines," Kulp said."You can't jail people for purposes of collecting civil debts or fines."

Cannon says this is all so sudden and he doesn't yet know what the future will hold for bench warrants.

He says there are about 3,000 bench warrants being recalled by his office.

The recall will not apply to the most serious misdemeanors and felonies that are heard in circuit court.

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