COLUMBIA - The S.C. House unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that lawmakers and law enforcement hope will keep the state's most violent criminals behind bars instead of released on bail.
Law enforcement officials say that some of the worst crimes are committed by those whose trials are pending from other offenses.
The bill, S.19, looks to fix that problem. It ensures that those who are arrested while out on bail for the most serious offenses are seen by a circuit court judge, not a magistrate. Judges would then have 30 days to consider whether bail should be set on the new offense.
It would also ensure that judges have all of the information about the arrested person's past convictions before making a decision. As it stands, the process for being released on bail is relatively easy, officials say. Magistrates must make a decision within 24 hours of the arrest, and bail is rarely denied, officials said. They often have little information on the person before them at a bond hearing, and prosecutors are rarely in the room to present the state's side of the case.
"(Those arrested multiple times) have clearly shown they have no respect for the system ... and they will continue to commit crimes as long as they're out in the community," Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen told a House panel in January.
Some of the state's most violent crimes are committed by those free on bail, law enforcement officials have said.
One such crime was committed by Charleston's Rafael Horlbeck, who was arrested for the rape of an 8-year-old and then released on bail. He hadn't yet been tried when he shot and killed 15-year-old Jermel Brown over a $200 drug debt in 2009.
The House passed the bill 98-0. It now heads to the governor's desk for her signature.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.