DARLINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — A ‘terrible backlog’ in cases could lead to more violent, repeat defendants getting bond.
Paul Burch is the resident 4th Circuit Judge, which includes Darlington, Marlboro, Chesterfield, and Dillon counties. Last month, he said he granted bond to Keith Larry, a man who is charged in two separate deadly shootings, because of a previous judge decision.
Burch said the previous judge who heard Larry’s case stated he had to face trial before a certain date, or he was to be granted bond. Larry spent nearly 800 days in jail before he was granted bond. Burch said the pandemic contributed to a ‘terrible backlog’ in cases.
“We couldn’t have any jury trials for about a year and three months so, that put us behind, and the jail situation exploded because we couldn’t move the cases; those that demanded jury trials,” he said.
A staff shortage, facilities that are not equipped to handle the pandemic and a lack of funding are making the problem worse, Burch claims.
“Some of these courthouses are so small they have the family court with the circuit court,” he said. “In other words, what I am trying to say is if you’ve got family court running, you can’t have circuit court.”
Burch says the 4th Circuit receives a fraction of the funding others do despite the state allocation being consistent.
“The 4th circuit has the lowest contribution rate in the state, that is for the solicitor’s office. As far as for the public defender’s office, it is the second lowest contribution in the state,” he said.
Burch described deciding when to grant bond to a defendant as a ‘legal, philosophical problem,’ stating the way the Constitution is written, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“It boils down to the justification of how long you keep someone in pre-trial custody.”
Meanwhile in Horry County, 15th Circuit Solicitor, Jimmy Richardson, said they were able to curb as much of the backlog as possible by holding some proceedings virtually and coming to plea agreements on as many cases as possible.
“You are never going to get murderers to plea,” he said. “You are never going to get child molesters to plea, and you are never going to get kidnappers.”
Richardson said while he wishes more forgery and theft cases could go to trial, because there is a limited amount of court time, they try to reserve it for violent charges, like rape, murder, and kidnapping.
“You are very seldom going to see a trial kick off with somebody’s trailer being stolen,” he said. “It is what it is. I wish there was more time for stuff like that, but you are almost forced to plead because I can’t justify that this child was raped, yet this stolen truck is going in front of it.”
He said the docket is full in the 15th Circuit through June and the focus is to get to the cases in which the defendants who have been in jail the longest without bond, are tried first.
“We do not want violent criminals out because there are so few that are in there without bond,” he said. “The ones that are in there are too dangerous to be walking the streets.”
Right now, Richardson said there are about 60 pending murder cases in the county.