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Drug Courts SC: How Criminal Sentencing Works


A charge for a drug-related offense can be life-changing in its impact and should be avoided at all costs. Everyone makes mistakes, and when the case involves addiction, it’s easy to get caught in a low point and end up in trouble with the law. At the Kent Collins Law Firm, we understand.

Here’s a breakdown of how sentencing works for a drug charge in SC. In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How drug crimes are sentenced in traditional court
  • What SC drug courts are and their purpose
  • What drug court offers drug offenders in terms of an alternative to jail time

How Traditional Criminal Sentencing Works

When you’re charged with any criminal offense, no matter if it’s related to drugs or not, you’ll be sentenced through the same general process:

The process begins after conviction. It doesn’t matter if your conviction came as a result of a plea deal, a guilty plea, or after a trial where you were either found guilty, if you’re convicted, you will be sentenced.

You’ll be granted a sentencing hearing, regardless of whether there is a sentencing recommendation in your case. The presiding judge has the final say over your sentence, in accordance with statutes like mandatory minimum jail time and fine amounts, which are assigned to serious crimes in South Carolina.

Arguments in Mitigation

You’ll be given a chance to argue your case for a more lenient sentence. You (and your attorney) may choose to use mitigating factors specific to your case, or use family members or employers to act as character witnesses to show that you’re not deserving of harsh penalties.

If you do receive a conviction, it could have a severe impact on your quality of life:

  • A jail sentence can impact your ability to stay employed, no matter how long.
  • A conviction on your record can impact your case for future employment, even if it isn’t a felony charge.
  • A jail sentence and/or monetary fine can have an impact on your family’s financial situation.

Clearly, it’s ideal to avoid sentencing hearings altogether by getting your charges dismissed or being cleared of any wrongdoing, which is why a quality defense attorney in SC can make a huge difference in your life.

However, if you find yourself backed into a corner over a drug-related offense, you may have another option: SC drug court.

Special Sentencing

South Carolina drug court is a way that the State provides an alternative in drug cases. In many drug-related offenses, rehabilitation is thought to be a more effective option than incarceration. That’s where drug courts come into play.

What Is a Drug Court?

As of May 2018, there were 3,100 drug courts nationwide according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Each state has some number of drug court programs, but they may vary in how they operate due to differences in state and local laws.

Drug court in South Carolina is an alternative way to prosecute and sentence offenders with treatment-focused outcomes.

Although drug court programs vary between states, SC drug courts involve diversion from traditional prosecution using mandated drug rehab.

There are a few key points to remember about drug court in South Carolina:

You’re only eligible in certain cases

Your entrance into drug court will be decided by the judge in your case. When you apply (more on this process below), you’ll have a chance to submit your reasoning for the request. You can get a referral from your attorney, a loved one, or even make the request yourself, but a key here is that the judge handling your case has the final authority.

Only certain offenses are typically transferred

For example, if your crime is a violent one, you won’t be admitted into a diversion program. While you’re welcome to still apply, SC drug courts usually take a certain type of offender.

Drug court doesn’t just mean rehab

Drug courts mandate a required period of time in a court-mandated Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) with an approved facility.

IOP programs involve detox, counseling, and other methods of achieving recovery, where the patient has to complete a set number of hours per week in a clinical setting. Most facilities that offer IOP programs have flexible hours so that patients can complete the program while still performing their jobs or academic careers.

In drug court, these programs are supervised by the court. If you complete one of these programs for the mandated amount of time, show positive outcomes from the experience, and complete all other requirements your charges will likely be dismissed.

How Do You Apply for Drug Court in SC?

The solicitor in the jurisdiction where your case is being handled sets the process in motion. Most jurisdictions have a Drug Court Treatment Office that can be used to jump-start the process with the courts.

To be admitted into a drug court program, you have to admit your guilt. If you go through with a trial in a traditional courtroom and are found guilty, you’ll miss your opportunity to have your case moved to a drug court.

If the judge in your case accepts the solicitor’s referral, they’ll accept your guilty plea and issue a conditional discharge for the offense. This means that your time in court is complete on the condition that you complete some requirements. In this case, the requirements include a court-supervised duration of IOP treatment among other things.

Once your “sentence” is over, the court will deem that you’ve completed treatment and your charges will be dismissed from your record.

What If You Slip Up?

Drug court comes with court-mandated restrictions. Primarily, you’ll be supervised to make sure you’re performing your treatment obligations and abstaining from illegal substances. If you’re found breaking the terms of the arrangement, you’ll be transferred back into the original court, where your case will be prosecuted with possible additional penalties resulting from your failure to complete the diversionary program.

Drug Court in SC can be a great opportunity for you to escape lasting penalties from a drug offense and also, to get the help you need. People with substance abuse issues are more likely to be repeat offenders of similar offenses. If you don’t take treatment seriously, even the completion of drug court won’t keep you from landing yourself back in the judicial system.

If you need guidance finding quality criminal defense and access to options like drug court, contact the Kent Collins Law Firm. We’ve helped hundreds of people like you in SC get out from under the foot of the judicial system and turn their lives around.

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