General Information on DUI Charges in Cherokee County
I’m James C. Thomas, and DUI Defense is all I do. I live in Spartanburg and maintain my principal law office here, but I also frequently make the short drive over to Gaffney for my clients who have cases in Cherokee County. Cherokee County is in the same judicial circuit as Spartanburg, but some of the procedure for what to expect with DUI charges is a lot different than it would be over the county line.
Below is some general information about DUI charges in Cherokee County that I am happy to provide for you. Consultations in my office (or over the phone, or Zoom) are always free, and there are always important details unique to each individual case that demand the attention of a dedicated DUI attorney. But these are some general things to keep in mind.
What is going to court for a DUI in Cherokee County like?
If you are charged with a first-offense DUI (meaning that you haven’t been convicted of DUI in the past ten years) by a state trooper or a county deputy, your case is probably going to be in Cherokee County Magistrate Court, 312 E. Frederick Street, in Gaffney (look for the building in front of the jail that says “Cherokee County Law Enforcement Center”).
(There is another division of Magistrate Court in the smaller town of Blacksburg, but as far as I can tell, they send all their DUI charges to the main court in Gaffney.)
If you were arrested by a city police officer for a first-offense DUI, then your case is going to be in that city’s Municipal Court. In Cherokee County, this usually means the court inside of Gaffney City Hall, though the small town of Blacksburg has a Municipal Court as well. (Chesnee’s city limits extend partially into Cherokee County, so if a Chesnee city officer arrested in you in that part of town, then you should be going to that court.)
You’ll find the name and address of the court you need to go to in the middle of your ticket (and also on your bond paperwork). The court date that is on your ticket is a bench trial date. A bench trial is a trial without a jury – the judge hears the case, rules on legal issues, and also reaches a verdict of either Guilty or Not Guilty like a jury would.
In general, it’s better to have a jury trial than a bench trial. But depending on which court you’re in, there might still be a benefit to going to your bench trial date. It’s an opportunity to speak to the arresting officer and come to an early resolution, if that’s what you want to do.
If you are charged with a second-offense (or more) DUI, then most of the above won’t apply to you. Instead, your case is going to be heard in the Cherokee County Court of General Sessions. That takes place in the Cherokee County Courthouse at 125 E. Floyd Baker Boulevard in Gaffney. General Sessions Court handles DUIs other than first-offense DUIs regardless of which police agency made the arrest. You don’t get a bench trial date in General Sessions Court. Instead, there are a series of appearances you’ll have to go to at the courthouse before the case is resolved, either with a plea or trial. These are court dates that you’ll be able to get out of if you hire a lawyer far enough in advance.
One advantage to being in General Sessions Court is that you do have the right to request a preliminary hearing. Customarily, your request has to be submitted within 10 days of your arrest. The prelim is a hearing where the arresting officer has to testify as to what the probable cause was for your arrest. It’s kind of like a mini-trial. There’s no jury, and the judge at a preliminary hearing does not require evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” like they would at an actual trial. But it’s a good opportunity to cross-examine the officer, get their answers in the record under oath, and preview what trial may look like. Since DUI cases are usually judgment calls made by officers with a wide variety of training and experience, the preliminary hearing is a nice “dry run” for me to cross-examine them and get a sense of what your chances look like at trial.
If I hire a lawyer, do I have to personally appear in court?
A lawyer can probably get you out of going to most of your early court dates, and possibly from going to court at all depending on how the case is ultimately resolved. Court rules in South Carolina allow lawyers to waive the appearance of their clients if they have permission. Eventually, you may have to appear if the case is either going to be resolved with a plea agreement or with a jury trial.
What if my license was suspended as a result of my arrest in Cherokee County?
If you receive an administrative license suspension as a result of a DUI arrest anywhere in Cherokee County, you have the right to request an administrative hearing to try and get the suspension dismissed. And while you’re waiting for that hearing to come around, you can get temporary driving privileges that aren’t restricted by time of day or destination. You have to request the hearing properly, and you have to make sure that your request is received by the DMV within thirty days. If you hire me, we’ll talk about how I can handle this process for you.
Administrative hearings that are held as a result of a Cherokee County license suspension will be held in Greer Municipal Court, at 100 S. Main St., Greer, SC 29650. It doesn’t matter whether you were arrested in up near the state line on I-85 an hour away – your administrative hearing will be in Greer. It will usually be scheduled about two or three months after the request is received by the DMV.
If you have a lawyer, you don’t have to physically appear at this hearing as long as your lawyer is there on your behalf. There are strategic reasons why you might want to be there to testify, but that’s a case-by-case decision that I’ll discuss with you ahead of time if you hire me to represent you.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol officers who make DUI arrests within Cherokee County usually show up to these hearings. This is a relatively recent development. It used to be easy to get your suspension dismissed at the hearing because the officer just wouldn’t be there. Sometimes you get lucky, but no longer can you take for granted that this will be the case. I have never seen an officer from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office at these hearings. Officers from the various city police departments usually don’t show up either.
I always prepare as though the officer is going to be at the hearing, even if I have a strong hunch that they won’t be. I figure I owe it to my clients, who have paid me good money, to prepare for every possible scenario.
Keep in mind that this process is completely separate from actually going to court for your DUI. Different judge, different location, different type of hearing, different standard of evidence. This is only about the administrative suspension (blue sheet of paper) you got for either refusing the breath test or for blowing too high a BAC. The outcome of one doesn’t affect what’s going to happen with the other.
Who prosecutes DUIs in Cherokee County?
If your case is in Magistrate Court or at the Cherokee County Court of General Sessions, then the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office is probably going to prosecute the case on behalf of the State. These people are lawyers who are full-time prosecutors and may handle a variety of other criminal court matters other than DUIs. They have a very busy caseload, and it may take a long time for them to provide discovery (videos, reports, etc.) to me.
If your case in Gaffney Municipal Court, the City employs a lawyer from private practice to prosecute cases. If your case is in Blacksburg Municipal Court, then chances are there won’t be a lawyer working for the other side – I’ll be dealing directly with the individual officer or the town’s Chief of Police.
How long is this whole process going to take?
Courts everywhere are still dealing with a heavy backlog from the months that they were shut down early in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Truthfully, they were already pretty backed up to begin with.) Cherokee County is no exception. If you have an administrative license suspension to deal with, that hearing should be over and done within three or four months, but administrative hearings are on a totally separate schedule from anything that is going on with your actual court case. Your court case might take one or two years to resolve, especially if we’re pressing to take the case in front of a jury.
There’s very little we can do on our end to speed the process along, but it’s usually not in your best interest to do so anyway. There’s an advantage to being patient and letting the long process take its course. If you have personal reasons why you want to wrap up your case as quickly as possible, that’s certainly something I’m happy to talk to you about. But keep in mind that it’s harder to get a good outcome if you’re trying to rush your case to a conclusion.
I’ve gotten successful results for lots of clients in Cherokee County. If you’d like to discuss your particular case further, please give me a call at (864) 863-7174. You can also use my contact form, and I’ll get back with you as soon as possible.