Tuesday, April 27, 2010
A South Carolina county magistrate was reprimanded by the Supreme Court for the following:
A defendant who was charged with simple assault failed to appear for her trial before respondent. Respondent found the defendant guilty in her absence without any witness being present to offer any testimony under oath. Instead, respondent found the defendant guilty based upon the officer's written statements and witness forms.
The defendant was sent a letter which stated she had been found guilty in her absence and fined $1,092.00 to be paid within fifteen days or she would be required to serve thirty days in jail. Respondent submits she found the defendant guilty and sent the letter "to get the defendant's attention" and find out why she had not appeared at trial. Respondent explains that she intended to set the conviction aside once she heard from the defendant.
The defendant contacted respondent and explained that she did not appear for trial because she believed the county attorney was going to dismiss the case. Respondent set aside the conviction and ordered a new court date.
Respondent regrets her error. She now recognizes that she erred in finding the defendant guilty in absentia and that she should not have proceeded to trial without either party being present.