COLUMBIA - South Carolina judges need more information when making a decision on whether to release someone on bond, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal told a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday in her State of the Judiciary speech.
Toal told members of the S.C. House and Senate that judges need to make sure that they have all pertinent information when deciding whether to set bond.
Toal, who serves as the administrative head of S.C. courts, also told lawmakers that efforts around technology and cutting court case backlogs have been successful.
The issue on when to set or revoke bond has seen much discussion in the Legislature during the past couple years. Law enforcement officials around the state say that it is far too easy for criminals to get out on bond - and they often commit crimes after being released.
"We often don't have the information we need," Toal said of judges.
A new legislative fix is already being implemented. Gov. Nikki Haley signed S.19 on Monday, which requires circuit court judges to receive more information before making decisions on bond. Circuit court judges instead of magistrates would also hear more of those decisions for those accused of serious crimes.
Toal was re-elected by the Legislature in February. She told the Legislature she was pleased to continue serving and that her primary initiative - the digitization of court records across the state - was going well.
"It is the honor of my life to once again lead your court system," she said.
She asked the Legislature for additional funds to establish a disaster recovery system in case of emergency if the system goes down. She said that the technology push across the state has digitized most records and made South Carolina a model for court management systems.
Toal also said that courts have reduced their backlog on cases, focusing on trying cases that were more than a year-and-a-half old. As an example, she said the state has reduced the backlog in Charleston and Berkeley counties by 27 percent.
"A lot can be done simply by . working together," she said.
Toal began her speech by praising the late federal Judge J. Waties Waring, a Charleston socialite who emerged as a Civil Rights hero. Waring, appointed to the bench in 1942, handed down several landmark civil rights era decisions. They included equalizing teacher pay and ensuring open primaries before his dissent in the school desegregation case Briggs v. Elliott that became the backbone of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that de-segregated schools.
Officials plan to dedicate a statue to Waring on Friday in Charleston. "He changed the course of opportunities for our state and for our nation," Toal said.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.
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