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Murder Charges in South Carolina

If you are accused of a homicide offense in South Carolina, including murder charges or manslaughter, you need legal representation by someone with courtroom experience. Your case deserves the attention of a South Carolina criminal defense lawyer dedicated to advocacy, preparation, and tenacity.

Murder charges in South Carolina carry extremely severe penalties. In fact, if convicted, you could spend a substantial portion of your life in prison, obviously depending on the nature and circumstances of the charges.

It is in your best interest to immediately retain a defense lawyer without delay. Do NOT speak to police officers, detectives, or anyone else about what happened. Under the 5th Amendment, you have a right to remain silent. As defense attorneys, we recommend you exercise your right and remain silent.

You may have heard of what is called Miranda Rights. Don’t waive your right, don’t start talking about the allegations of criminal charges. Don’t assume you can fool the police or detectives investigating murder charges. If they don’t have a search warrant, don’t even let them in your house “just to clear things up” or “look around.”

There is a very good reason for Miranda Warnings in Criminal Charges: Anything you say can and will be used against you.

Seek protection under the attorney-client privilege and retain legal representation immediately. Once you do so, discuss the situation with your criminal defense attorney, AND ONLY with your lawyer.

Our South Carolina attorney can help protect your legal rights (Constitutional Rights) during the different stages of a murder investigation (murder, manslaughter, or homicide charges) in which you may be a potential suspect, person of interest, or have already been charged.

What is Murder in South Carolina?

Unlike some jurisdictions, the South Carolina criminal laws do not specifically define or delineate degrees of murder, such as “First Degree Murder” or “2nd Degree Murder” under its state statutory law (the laws written by legislators in Columbia, SC)

Rather, all murder charges in South Carolina are defined as the killing of a person with malice aforethought, express or implied.

Malice Aforethought – Mens Rea and the “Evil Mind”

“Malice aforethought” is defined as “the requisite mental state for common-law murder” (Black’s Law Dictionary - 7th edition) and it utilizes four possible mental states to encompass both specific and general intent to commit the crime.

Defense lawyers may refer to that as the mens rea, which in Latin means the “evil mind.” Intent, what people plan to do, is often important in SC criminal charges. We punish people for criminal offenses when they plan evil or harm towards others.

These four possibilities for Murder Charges in South Carolina are:

  • Intent to Kill
  • Intent to inflict grievous bodily harm
  • Extremely reckless indifference to the value of human life (abandoned and malignant heart)
  • Intent to commit a felony (the felony murder rule)

“General intent” is often defined as “the state of mind required for the commission of certain common law crimes not requiring specific intent” and it “usually takes the form of recklessness . . . or negligence.”

What Is Malice in South Carolina? Express and Implied Malice

“Express malice” means that a person intentionally means to kill (murder) another individual. “Implied malice” exists when there is no proof and/or evidence that shows the killer was provoked, yet an individual was killed nonetheless. Implied malice may also exist when a crime is committed by someone who is said to have a “depraved” or “malignant” heart.

Essentially, malice aforethought includes both specific intent and/or general intent to commit murder.

Specific Intent v. General Intent to Murder

Specific intent crimes require the State to prove the “state of mind” (the mens rea) associated with the crime. That is, the defendant (the person facing allegations of murder in South Carolina) must consciously intend the results of their actions.

For example, a person can only be convicted of larceny (theft) if they intentionally mean to permanently take items from another owner. If a person does not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the items, they cannot be convicted of larceny.

Additionally, premeditated murder requires the actor to intentionally or knowingly make a plan (prior to the murder) that is meant to result in the death of the other person. Defense lawyers in Rock Hill SC may refer to that as a common plan or scheme.

Most crimes are considered general intent crimes. That is, the State only must prove that the defendant intended to commit the act, i.e., the defendant intended their actions.

The State is not required to prove that the defendant intended the cause, result or outcome from commission of the act. For example, a battery can be proven just by showing that the defendant punched the victim. The State is not required to prove that the defendant intended the victim to be hurt or injured.

What Are the Penalties for Murder in South Carolina?

If you are found guilty or plead guilty to murder, a judge is required to sentence you to one of three separate punishments. The punishments are: (1) 30 years in prison to life in prison; (2) life in prison without the possibility of parole; and (3) the death penalty, i.e., “capital punishment.”

Additionally, South Carolina’s state statutory law provides an extensive list of aggravating factors the judge can consider when determining an appropriate sentence to impose in a murder case. You can find a list of them here.

Remember, the mandatory minimum for a murder conviction in South Carolina is 30 years in prison.


If you have been charged with a homicide offense in South Carolina, the attorneys at our South Carolina law office provide a free consultation. Please do not wait.

Attorney Chris Beddow is licensed in both North Carolina and South Carolina and handles criminal matters in both states. Attorney Bill Powers is licensed in NC and only handles North Carolina criminal matters.

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